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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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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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