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10 Reasons Alex Trebek is Awesome

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Quick, if you could pick any game show host to have on your side during a fight, who would it be? Bob Barker? C’mon. Everyone picks Bob Barker. Just because he wielded a mean set of fists in Happy Gilmore doesn’t mean he would in real life. No, I think you’d better go with Alex Trebek. Dude is tough. If you haven’t heard the latest Trebek-related news, check out #1 on the list, and then read on for nine other things that make him kind of amazing.

1. When he recently woke up his San Francisco hotel room to find a robber rifling through his possessions, Alex Trebek chased the robber down and cornered her in the ice machine alcove. He ended up getting everything back except some cash and a bracelet that was a gift from his mother.

2. Under the category "Things You Probably Didn't Want to Know About Alex Trebek": he sleeps nude. When he gave an interview to The Today Show this morning, Trebek mentioned that he put underwear on before tearing out the door after the burglar.

3. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by the commando sleeping, because he was once fully prepared to do part of Jeopardy! pantless. During the Ken Jennings era, Ken and his two fellow contestants, both male, decided it would help their nerves if they all stood in their skivvies behind their podiums. Alex agreed to join in, not realizing it was all a prank.

4. He was one of the original Men in Black on the X-Files. So was Jesse Ventura.


5. He carried the Olympic Torch for a leg through Jacksonville, Florida, for the Atlanta Games in 1996.

6. Unlike the Will Ferrell version of him, the real Alex Trebek has a pretty good sense of humor.

7. When asked if he watched Bob Barker’s final show on The Price is Right his response was, “I was doing some electrical work in an attic today.”

8. Time's Techland interviewed Trebek last year and said, "I always imagine an obscure question coming up at a dinner party and everybody says, 'Oh, well, let's ask Alex. He knows everything because of Jeopardy.'"

Alex's response? "Yeah, well, that doesn't happen at dinner parties. I'm too busy drinking [laughs]."

9. As a Christmas gift for the cast and crew of Jeopardy! one year, he took everyone indoor skydiving. He also once hired a dance instructor to teach them all to moonwalk (he himself opted out after an attempt or two).

10. And then there’s this video. Is he actually drinking? Hard to say. But there’s no doubt that he’s cursing like a sailor (there’s your forewarning).

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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