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11 Elevens Worth Remembering

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On 11/11/11, here are 11 of the most important 11s to ever 11.

1. The maple leaf on the Canadian flag has 11 points.

Mark Herreld / Shutterstock.com

Officially adopted in 1965, the current design of the Canadian flag is the first in the country's history to not include the Union Jacks. It's commonly thought that the 11 points on the flag represent 10 provinces and one country. They don't. The reasoning behind the 11 points is much more practical. When the flag was being designed tests showed that with an 11-point design the leaf would remain recognizable when the flag was blowing in the wind. A more realistic 23-point leaf would look like a big blur.

2. Apollo 11 was the first manned flight to reach the moon.

After six unmanned and five manned launches for the Apollo mission, Apollo 11 was the first manned flight to reach the moon on July 20, 1969. The mission took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon as Michael Collins remained in orbit. After the lunar module Eagle spent 21 hours and 31 minutes in the Sea of Tranquility, Aldrin and Armstrong met back up with Collins and returned to earth heros.

3. Spinal Tap's amps went to 11.

In 1984's This is Spinal Tap, the band’s guitarist Nigel Tufnel shows off extra-loud Marshall guitar amps that "go to 11." The movie inspired real life guitar genius Eddie Van Halen to request amps that go up to 11 and in 2002 the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary added the phrase, defining it as a "up to maximum volume."

4. The phrase "at the 11th hour" comes from the bible.

Now the name of things like a '60s medical drama and a Leonardo DiCaprio documentary, "the 11th hour" comes from a biblical parable relayed in the book of Matthew. In the story a man hires laborers to work in his vineyard in the morning, promising them a penny of pay. He continues to bring in workers throughout the day and at the "eleventh hour" brings in another batch, who get paid the same penny as those who worked all day.

5. Venus William's clothing line is called EleVen.

In August 2007, tennis superstar Venus Williams launched EleVen, a clothing line named after her childhood address. Four months later she received her associate degree in Fashion Design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Generously, the school did not revoke her degree when she wore this to Wimbledon three and a half years later.

6. There are only 11 minutes of action in the average football game.

According to a study by the Wall Street Journal, the average televised NFL game includes only 11 minutes of actual football action, falling behind the 17 minutes devoted to replays and 67 minutes of "players standing around."

7. M-theory says the universe consists of 11 dimensions.

After researchers developed string theory, and then several more versions of string theory, a unifying theory called M-theory was proposed. The assumption was that rather than exist separately, these theories are all different ways of looking at the same thing. Along with M-theory came the proposal that spacetime has 11 dimensions.

8. The word eleventy means 110.

Thank J.R.R. Tolkien for this one. At the beginning of Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins celebrates his eleventy-first birthday. And on January 6, 2003, Tolkien himself would have celebrated his eleventy-first if he had the longevity of a hobbit. Unfortunately he died in 1973.

9. 7-11 originally closed at 11pm.

Now known for being open 24 hours, the convenience store 7-11 was so named because it opened at 7am and closed at 11pm. In 1962 the company first tried the 24-hour schedule, 16 years after the first 7-11 opened.

10. The most Oscars won by a single film is 11.

And it’s happened three times. The first was Ben-Hur, which won its 11 awards in 1959, followed by Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

11. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” has 11 stars.

Though he was much more religious as a young man than when he painted this beloved dorm poster at the age of 36, Van Gogh’s decision to include 11 stars in the sky of “Starry Night” is widely regarded as a reference to a Genesis 37:9. In that verse Joseph says, “'Look, I have had another dream' he said, 'I thought I saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars, bowing to me.'”

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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