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10 of Life's Questions Answered with Flowcharts

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Young adults face difficult decisions every day that they must negotiate without the help of parents or the wisdom that comes from experience. But there is help in the form of flowcharts on the internet! Many of these were designed by young adults without the wisdom of experience or help from their parents, so you might want to take them with a grain of salt.

1. What Kind of Roommate Are You?

This is the end point of a flowchart by Caldwell Tanner at College Humor. See the entire chart to determine which category you fall into. You may laugh and say you don't fit into any of these categories, but you recall meeting of lot of people who do, don't you? Or you may have lived with a few of them!

2. Should I Get the Hot New Gadget?

A new phone, computer, game system, etc. is coming out and the internet is all abuzz. Do you take the plunge and become an early adopter, or will you regret that financial sacrifice? Scordit helps you decide with a flowchart that doesn't take into account what the new gadget actually is, but uses experience of previous product releases to give you some wisdom about your decision. Only the beginning of the chart is shown here.

3. What Football Team Should I Root For?

If you are a student, you would, of course, root for your school's team. But school doesn't last forever, and neither does the college football season. Your chosen professional football team should reflect who you are and your lifestyle choices. Paul Caputo and Shea Lewis laid it all out at Interpretation by Design. There are even options here for people who hate football! Click to enlarge the full size version to get a really good look.

4. What Board Game Should We Play?

This flowchart is actually an advertising "infographic," but it speaks the truth about board games. It takes into account who you are playing with and how badly you want to defeat them (among other variables), so if you hate your younger cousins, treat them to a game of Monopoly. See the whole thing here.

5. Can I Go to Work Without Getting Sick?

A winter post from The Awl contains several charts and graphs about catching a cold at work. Can you avoid the illness? This flowchart pretty much sums up the answer as "no." But there's some decent advice amidst the humor about protecting yourself from everyone else's germs.

6. How Can I Lead a Creative Life?

Fast Company presented a flowchart to help you get your creative juices flowing that accompanies their special issue on how to live a creative life. I would add the advice to make the enlarged version of your flowcharts scrollable, but you can download the whole thing and enlarge it from your files if you desire. Only a small portion is shown here, but it should give you the gist of the entire chart.

7. Should I Wear Sweatpants Today?

I looked all over and cannot find the original creator of The College Girl's Guide To Wearing Sweatpants. We can assume the artist is a female who is in or has been to college. I found this informative graphic, however, which relates to the subject well.

8. How Should I Pay the Rent?

Literary inspiration may help here. Brenna Clarke Gray at Book Riot graphed how heroines from young adult literature would approach the task of paying rent. Shown is the flowchart of The Hunger Games' heroine Katniss Everdeen. You'll also find rent payment procedures from Anne of Green Gables, Hermione from the Harry Potter books, and Bella from Twilight.

9. Do I Have to Wake Up Yet?

The very first decision you make every day can be a difficult one! Susanna Wolff at College Humor helps with a flowchart balancing your need for sleep against the reasons you might actually have to get out of bed.

10. Do I Want to Do This?

Nerve published a collection of funny flowcharts, many of which we have posted here over the years, but this one pretty much sums up every other question in life. Like the old adage tells us, good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.

See more funny flowcharts in our previous posts.

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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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