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8 Amazing Garage Sale Finds

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I made $8 at my mom’s garage sale last weekend. That wasn’t a typo—I only made eight dollars, which put me in the hole about $79 when you factor in the speeding ticket I got on the way to her house.

Suffice it to say, I wish my luck ran more like that of the unwitting people below who happened upon some amazing discoveries while browsing through people’s worn records and used tableware. Check out some of their bargains:

1.  Ansel Adams negatives. Rick Norsigian was in the market for an antique barber chair at a Fresno garage sale when he spotted a couple of boxes of glass negatives. His interest piqued, Norsigian offered the owner $45 and ended up going home with them. After noticing how similar the images seemed to some famous Ansel Adams photos of Yosemite National Park, he had them examined by experts. They were declared authentic, most likely rescued from a fire that destroyed a third of Adams’ work in 1937. People from Adams’ camp are skeptical, to say the least, even comparing Norsigian to Hitler. Whoa.

2. Vintage Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield pictures.
Purchased for $2.00 at a New Jersey garage sale in 1980 by photographer Anton Fury, the photos are still in his possession while he figures out who they belong to and where they came from.

3. Floyd Landis’ bicycle. Most bikes found at garage sales were maybe worth a couple of hundred bucks new. The one Greg Estes of Owenton, Ky., found was worth $8,000 and was custom built for Tour de France 2006 winner Floyd Landis (well, he was the winner until he was stripped of his title for doping). It turned out the bike had been blown off the vehicle transporting it to an event in 2008; someone found it by the side of the road and decided to throw it in a garage sale, hoping to make a few bucks.
4. A 16th-century oil painting. The portrait was found at a garage sale in South Bend, Ind. Purchaser Frederick Wright didn’t really even care for the piece and only bought it because the man depicted reminded him of a character from the British sitcom Are You Being Served? After interpreting a French inscription and discovering that the portrait may have been done in 1573 by French painter and designer Francois Quesnel, Wright had the piece appraised. Its worth was estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.

5. Original artboards for the first issue of the Avengers comic book.A creative little girl bought the blank drawings to color in when her stepdad wondered if they might be worth something. They were: about $48,000. It turned out the boards had been reported stolen and the family was arrested (and later released):

6. The Declaration of Independence. Or at least a version of it. This tale is pretty famous, so you may have heard it before. If not, it goes a little something like this: Guy buys a cool, weathered-looking copy of the Declaration of Independence at a yard sale, then stashes it in his garage for years. Guy gets engaged, guy and girl clean out their junk so they can move in together. Guy gives copy of the Declaration to a thrift store. A week later, he finds out it was the real thing. Well, it was a copy, but it was one of 200 official copies commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820. It sold for $477,000 in 2007.
7. A rare Velvet Underground acetate disc. In 2004, record collector Warren Hill forked over a dollar for a plain acetate in a cardboard sleeve that had the words “Velvet Underground” scribbled on it. An acetate disc, in case you don’t know (I didn’t), is a type of record that was used for recording different mixes or getting preview copies of albums to DJs. Anyway, Warren got a quarter back from his dollar, and his 75-cent investment ended up netting him about $24,999.25 after it was discovered to be a demo of the first album the Velvet Underground ever made. The demo was rejected by Columbia Records.

8. A diamond-encrusted pendant shaped like LeBron James’ jersey. Vaneisha Robinson shelled out $5 for a cute LeBron pendant at a garage sale several years ago, then later had it appraised out of curiosity and found out it was 14-karat gold covered in two carats of real diamonds. The pendant originally belonged to Maverick Carter, the head of LeBron’s marketing company. Robinson says she was pressured into turning the pendant over to Carter's mother and filed a lawsuit last year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]