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Weekend Links: Kids Perform the Best Pic Oscar Nominees

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Happy Academy Awards Sunday! Haven't seen all of the Best Pic nominees? Don't worry, these two short videos of kids reenacting the films is all you need (and they are fantastic).
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More from the Oscars: what it would look like if this year's Best Picture nominees had a hostile conversation on Facebook (and you totally know they would).
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Speaking of hostile, someone has made an entire page full of GIFs of the Actor and Actress winners (and more interesting, losers) through the years at the Moment of Truth. Hilarious.
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Want some awards trivia to impress your friends with tonight? Here are 10 Unusual Facts About the Oscars
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I had never heard of the term "bokeh" before, so I'll let someone else explain it: "The term bokeh is derived from a Japanese word which means “blur.” In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur, or the effect of the out-of-focus regions of an image. This technique is usually done in order to make the main subject stand out in the photo. Lens aberrations and shape of lens aperture are the major things that help in achieving bokeh." And here are 72 stunning examples of it!
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The oldest known film footage of American football, from a 1903 college game that resembles rugby more than the game we currently know (especially with the lack of passing - no time!)
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The title of this article is "Antarctic Glacier Has Five-story Blood-red Waterfall of Primordial Ooze." I really don't think there's anything I can write to beat that!
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These integrated photographs of old versus new have been around for a while now, but this particular set juxtaposing Paris in 1940 with Paris today is rather creepy! I often wonder, even in my town, "who else has stood here? What else happened right here?"
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Finally, one of fellow _flosser David Israel's recent Twaggies in honor of "The Walking Dead" returning! (i.e. … Mondays?) For more great tweets illustrated, visit the Twaggies section of GoComics.
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A big thanks to everyone who sent in links this week! Keep it up - send your submissions to FlossyLinks@gmail.com.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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