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10 Funny and Fabulous Flowcharts

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Flow charts are wonderful for mapping processes for machines, as they lay out a sequence of binary decisions, meaning yes or no. When you think about it, most of what we do in life is also based on yes/no decisions -you just have to break the problem down into small pieces to see that clearly. In these flow charts, we see how life choices can be broken down into a set of binary decisions taken to a ridiculous degree.

1. Should I Worry?

I love this chart. It illustrates what I tell my family from time to time -there's no sense in worrying about something you can't do anything about. And when you think about it, there's no sense in worrying about anything else, either. And if you squint your eyes, the chart looks as if it is saying "OK."

2. Should I Become an Astronaut or Not?

You may be devoted to space and space travel, but if you're not cut out for the position of astronaut, you may as well focus on something else. This flow chart will help you make that decision in a logical, orderly fashion. After all, hiring is down, even at NASA. It's from Good magazine, where they have a new flowchart for your life decisions every week.

3. Video Game Characters

If you've ever wondered how game makers design characters, there are only a few easily-parsed rules. This is just the beginning of the flow chart, but if you go to the full chart, you will see more character development. You already know where the female line is heading.

4. How to Play Pictionary

I'm not sure if this is the best way to play the game, but it's what actually happens when people play it, illustrated by the webcomic Doghouse Diaries. If you have a better method, it would be prudent to keep it to yourself to gain an edge on the competition (yeah, right- as if Pictionary is a competitive game).

5. Should You Friend Your Parents on Facebook?

What a conundrum! In my case, the question is whether I should "friend" my children. With a house full of teenagers, I am torn between wanting to keep up with their social interactions and not wanting them to know the details of my online business. This handy flowchart by Mike Newman at Cool Material leads you through the decision-making process.

6. How to Find YouTube Videos

YouTube is a vast ocean consisting of almost anything that can be committed to video. Finding what you'll most likely enjoy is made easier with this maze of a flowchart by Karen Kavett. A series of questions will lead you to a recommended channel, or at least a starting point. See the full size version at her site.

7. How to Hack a Computer in an Action Movie

Hacking someone else's computer system in the real world is a complicated feat that not just anyone can do. In Hollywood, however, all you need is a few time-tested steps that can be followed in a flow chart from College Humor. Only the beginning is shown here. Click to enlarge the original version to read it all.

8. Expressing Your Thoughts

Paul Davis designed a series of a dozen greeting cards with hand-drawn flow charts that explain the sender's message. Each step in the flow makes the greeting more meaningful.

9. What Produce Should I Eat?

What Should I Eat? Produce Aisle Edition is just one of the many food flowcharts from Top Cultured. They also have flowcharts to help you select your beer, candy, fast food, chain restaurant, and more. Looking at all the choices from the produce aisle makes me crave a salad, especially in the summer when everything tastes so much better. Even if you have no trouble selecting your food, this chart may give you ideas for something new to try. Only a small portion is pictured here.

10. Obsession

This flow chart explains the daily life of a cyclist, but it could be adapted to anyone who has a hobby that takes over their life. It was designed by Karl Rosengarth of Wearhold. I can't argue against anything that will make someone this happy.

See more funny flowcharts in other mental_floss posts:
Run Your Life with Flowcharts!
Fun with Flowcharts
7 Geeky Flowcharts
7 Brilliant and/or Baffling Flowcharts
7 Flowcharts for Fun
10 Funny Flowcharts
10 Clever and Confusing Flowcharts

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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