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My Walk to Work, 2008-2009

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For five years, I lived ten blocks from my office -- my apartment and the office were both on Main Street, just a short walk from each other. I made that walk year after year and saw plenty of weird and wonderful things, primarily in the morning -- leftovers of whoever had spent the night out. I finally started taking pictures of these things with my camera phone around 2008, a year before I moved to a new house. I no longer walk to my office (it's a 45-minute bus ride now), but here, I've collected some of my favorite photos from that old walk. Sorry about the camera quality -- it's kinda what you get when you're on the go.

In case you're wondering, this was all going down in inner southeast Portland, Oregon. It's a transitional area between light industrial and commercial buildings (think warehouses, bakeries, distilleries) and the beginning of a residential neighborhood.

The Free Box

October 6, 2009

The flier on the front says "Free Box: The Magazine #3." Below, it says "Neighborhood Issue: 'Free Box' travels the world! Furnishing your home with freedom." Initially I was a little scared to open the Free Box, but then took to doing it every time I passed -- because, yes, there was always free stuff in there. I even took to putting my own free stuff in there. The problem with the free stuff was that it was often pretty useless (like a single shoe). But hey, free shoe.

Inside the Free Box

October 6, 2009

Here's a typical example of what's inside the Free Box. Some crazy pajama bottoms, a sheet/curtain, and a newspaper. Written inside the box: "Please don't be a dick! Thank you. Come again."

Inside the Free Box

Outside(r) Art

August 28, 2008

I passed this guy's house many times, and often there'd be a piece of art like this on display out by his car. I finally met him the day I saw this one -- I just had to ask. He said was a retired teacher, trying his hand at painting. He'd put his art outside, figuring that if somebody liked it, he or she would probably knock on his door and they could talk about it. Apparently he got visitors several times a week.

Outside(r) Art

Beach Graffiti

July 10, 2008

Seen on a utility box. I like the birds.

Beach Graffiti

Rant on a Van

August 6, 2008

This was written on the window of a van crammed full of stuff -- boxes, bags, a lamp. It reads (errors intact): "Nice try on the theft, now I have you on camera for two vans and the tools you took the first time. Best of all you left your finger prints on the bolt cutters you handeld. Be a man and come during the [day?] since you are the worst thief in the world. The ignition is very simple if you have a brain." Note that I inserted the word "day," as I think that's what this guy was getting at. I looked behind me and indeed, there was a security camera there.

Rant on a Van

Christmas in June

June 4, 2008

I lived next to a photography studio, located in a big warehouse. They did all kinds of weird stuff in there involving props. On one notable occasion, they shot a calendar involving firemen, and managed to get a fire truck inside the warehouse. After each shoot they'd leave most of the props just sitting on the curb and people would take them (sometimes I took them -- I got some decent shelves from one shoot). Here's an example of one that made me wonder: what photo shoot required a live fir (cedar?) tree -- looks like a Christmas tree to me -- in June?

Christmas in June

Twin Dogs Waiting

June 11, 2008

I saw these little guys several times, waiting outside a coffee shop. They were very friendly. They're tied to an Oregonian newspaper box.

Twin Dogs Waiting

Blue Rubber Glove

July 9, 2009

Hey, free blue rubber glove!

Blue Rubber Glove

Free Baguettes

June 23, 2009

Outside a catering company's kitchen. They'd make the food there, then drive it to events. The leftover food was sometimes kinda weird. I think I see some asparagus in there too. Note that these green containers are Portland's composting bins.

Free Baguettes

Free Bread

June 8, 2009

Another example from the same place, several weeks earlier.

Free Bread

Drifts of Cherry Blossoms

April 28, 2008

There's a period of a few weeks each year when the cherry blossom petals fall and collect in drifts on the street. Here are a few shots from my front steps and the sidewalk by my apartment.

Cherry Blossoms - Steps

Cherry Blossoms - Steps - Detail

Cherry Blossoms - Sidewalk

Snow Day

December 22, 2008

I couldn't walk to work that day.

Snow Day

Mix CDs

November 18, 2008

A bunch of home-burned CDs. I thought about taking one, but the titles were all very inscrutable...and these were sitting outside a sorta hippie-ish brewpub so I figured it probably wasn't my jam.

Mix CDs

Trees Awaiting Planting

January 8, 2009

Some trees waiting for a chance to grow.

Trees Awaiting Planting

Mental_Floss Magazine in Convenience Store

September 20, 2009

I stopped by a convenience store and noticed that our magazine was on the front display, on par with Details, GQ, and Elle. We have better placement than Wired and Scientific American! Take that, publishing industry!

Magazine Rack

Cicero Quote & Graffiti

October 27, 2009

Two photos. First, the inscription above a boarded-up school. Second, graffiti in the entryway.

Cicero Quote

School Graffiti

Coat Hook

December 30, 2009

Not technically on my walk to work -- this was seen in a restroom at the PDX airport. I have to wonder why they had to label it. Lawsuit after somebody poked an eye out? Also, why so many screws?

Coat Hook

All images © 2011 Chris Higgins.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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