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KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters/Landov

The Easter Bunny: An Unauthorized Biography

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KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters/Landov

The Easter Bunny is a beloved springtime character, but look deeper and you’ll realize nobody gives away that much chocolate unless they’re hiding something.

He Can’t Even Cover the Whole World!

Say what you will about Santa Claus, but at least he’s delivering presents the world over. The shiftless Easter Bunny outsources egg and candy distribution in various parts of the globe. Swiss children have to make do with a cuckoo, rendering Easter no more special than a common clock. In various other cultures, kids have to be content with an Easter stork, fox, or rooster.

He’s a German Sleeper Agent!

The sneakiest spies lie low and work themselves into the fabric of a community before striking. By that standard, the Easter Bunny may well be the most successful German spy of all time. The suspicious bunny traces his roots back to a 16th-century German character named Osterhase. When German immigrants came to North America en masse in the 18th century, they brought their buddy Osterhase with them. Sure, he’s been here for hundreds of years now, but can we really trust him?

He Might Not Be a Rabbit!

He calls himself “the Easter Bunny,” but that name is at least half wrong. Osterhase translates into English as “the Easter Hare.” Despite what the puns in Bugs Bunny cartoons would have you believe, hares and rabbits aren’t the same thing. Hares are larger, haven’t been domesticated, and live in nests rather than underground. So this “Easter Bunny” changed his name upon arriving in this country? Sounds suspicious if you ask us.

He’s Not Laying Any Eggs!

Hare, rabbit ... it doesn’t matter. Neither of these furry creatures lays eggs. How did this floppy-eared huckster experience such a Machiavellian rise to the top of the egg-delivery business? By relying on a combination of charm and virility. Rabbits and hares have been symbols of rebirth for centuries. Same with eggs. So when Germans started hiding Easter eggs for children in the 16th century, where better to stash them than in hares’ nests?

He Has Enemies in Australia!

Think bunnies are cute? Australians don’t. Rabbits aren’t native to the continent, but hunting enthusiasts introduced 24 imported specimens as quarry in the 1850s. Unfortunately, the rabbits procreated like, well, rabbits. By the turn of the 20th century, the adorable bunnies had become crop-destroying thorns in farmers' sides. The situation became so dire that the province of Western Australia tried to enclose itself in a giant fence to stall illegal rabbit immigration. So, in the 1990s, Australians found a viable replacement: the bilby.

Bilbies are endangered marsupials that share the Easter Bunny’s long ears and have the added bonus of respecting the nation’s valuable crops. Today, Australian kids have the option of celebrating Easter by munching on chocolate bilbies.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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