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11 Variations on "Keep Calm and Carry On"

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The now-famous Keep Calm and Carry On poster was produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1939, as a quintessentially British statement of what to do in the event of German invasion. The poster actually wasn't circulated at the time, and only became popular after its rediscovery at a bookstore. Among my friends, it's something of a mantra -- I know one woman who has the phrase sewn into the lining of her coat.

But enough with boring history. Let's look at some wacky variations on the poster that have appeared online. Tip for nerds: a lot of these are available as prints (and notebooks, phone covers, mouse pads, you name it) from various online vendors. Google it.

1. Keep Calm and Call Batman

I first saw this on a whiteboard at a software company. Get Commissioner Gordon on the phone!

2. Don't Panic and Carry a Towel

For all the hoopy froods in the house.

Don't Panic and Carry a Towel

3. Keep Calm and Kill It With Fire

Everyone knows The Thing can only be killed with fire. Also: winter is coming.

Keep Calm and Kill it With Fire

4. Keep Calm and Save the Princess

Mario or Zelda? You decide.

Keep Calm and Save the Princess

5. Freak Out and Call Mom

She'll want to hear what's up.

Freak Out and Call Mom

6. Stress Out and Throw Vase

This is what you do if Mom isn't picking up.

Stress Out and Throw Vase

7. Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa

A spot of tea always helps.

Keep Calm and Have a Cuppa

8. Keep Calm and Aim for the Head

Necessary advice for the coming zombie apocalypse.

Keep Calm and Aim for the Head

9. Keep Calm and Harry On

Useful while you're waiting for that damn Sorting Hat to figure you out.

Keep Calm and Harry On

10. Keep Calm and Simply Walk Into Mordor

Easy for you to say, Gandalf!

Keep Calm and Simply Walk Into Mordor

11. Run Out of Ideas and Make a Parody

Oh, internet. How self-aware you've become!

Run Out of Ideas and Make a Parody

More

There are zillions more in a Flickr pool devoted to this sort of thing.

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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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