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George Barris' Five Most Famous Cars

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Did you watch TV at any time during the '60s, '70s or '80s?
Then you're probably familiar with George Barris' work. He worked on some of the most instantly recognizable vehicles that have ever graced the small screen. Though the Batmobile is probably his most famous piece, you're sure to recognize some of his other rides as well.

1. The Batmobile from the original Batman TV show. When Adam West needed something suitably superheroey to drive on the 1966 show, Barris was contacted to come up with something on the double. Given a time frame of a mere three weeks, Barris decided it would be much easier to customize an existing car than create something from scratch. He ended up using a Lincoln Futura he already had on hand from the 1959 movie It Started With a Kiss. The parachutes on the back really work - Barris once tested them on the Hollywood Freeway and was pulled over. Photo credit

2. The Munster Koach from The Munsters. Herman and Lily Munster's ride was actually made of three Model Ts. Once again, Barris was working on a pretty tight schedule - the studio gave him just three weeks to Frankenstein the car together, outfit the interior with blood-red velvet and create all of the exterior scrollwork by hand. By the way, should you ever find yourself driving this thing, leave plenty of room for turning corners: the Koach is 18 feet long. Barris' company also created Grandpa's DRAG-U-LA.

3. KITT from Knightrider. To be fair, it seems that Barris only worked on versions of KITT - specifically, the convertible and the Super-Pursuit KITT. Designer Michael Scheffe was responsible for the original.

4. The Beverly Hillbillies' jalopy. "I found a 1922 Ford at a feed store off Interstate 10 in Los Angeles that the owner had cut the back off and made a bed to haul hay," Barris said. "I bought it and fixed a place for Granny's rocking chair, and away it went."

5. "1928 Porter" from My Mother the Car. "Mom" wasn't a real Porter (a very small company that only made a handful of cars), but was actually a Model T Touring car with a Chevy V8 engine.
By the way, My Mother the Car was voted by viewers of the O'Reilly Factor as the worst show in the history of TV. If you've never heard of it, the opening and closing credits will speak volumes (and also give you a good look at Barris' work):

There's some bad blood in the custom car community, it seems - apparently many of them feel Barris takes credit for cars he didn't design, including the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard, the Monkeemobile from The Monkees and Black Beauty from The Green Hornet. The problem is that his company has created replicas of many of those famous cars to use at conventions and the like, and Barris doesn't seem to discourage anyone when they assume that he was the original designer. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]