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Weekend Links: Why Daylight Saving Time May Kill You

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I am no fan of Daylight Saving Time, and now I have even more fuel to add to that fire, because apparently ... springing forward could kill you. My parents have started ignoring the time shift and exist on Central Time during these months while living in the Eastern zone. Heroes!
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The most insane letter ever written by a child to a TV weatherman. Also the most awesome. This kid has a lot of creative talent! (Thanks Paul for the link!)
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Whether you enjoy football soccer or not, you may still appreciate the tenacity of Lionel Messi, the Argentinian phenom who plays for Barcelona F.C. This video, besides being a lovely cut of "the beautiful game," also shows that you don't need to dive or put on to win challenges, you just need to keep going.
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Does hypnosis work? And what exactly does it do to your brain? (Have any of you ever been hypnotized? And not just by the soccer skills of Messi?)
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We did this as a summer camp project once and I positively loved it: 11 Household Appliances Disassembled. The complexity is truly astounding and not something we should so easily take for granted! Also it's a good way to learn how to disable our robot overlords ...
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… Unless the spiders get us first! OK, seriously, arachnaphobes do not click this link. I don't like spiders but the last picture gave me the willies for the entire afternoon: thousands of spiders blanket Australian farm after escaping flood. Have you ever witnessed an exodus like this? When we had floods here I saw armies of ants marching away, spiders hanging from trees and snakes everywhere.
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Because for some of us there can never be enough discussion of the Titanic: was the ship sunk by a "Supermoon" and Celestial Alignment? (Thanks Holly!)
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I have seen some of these life hacks before but the first one about knots blew my mind and I had to share. I haven't tried it yet but it definitely seems like it could have saved me some time and heartache and a broken nail last week …
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A cheaper way to decorate: instead of buying furniture, why not just draw it?
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Super slow motion video of a water drop hitting sand. The final bit really sold me. Amazing!
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A big thanks to everyone who sent in links this week - keep it up! Send a raven (or a regular ole email) 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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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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