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11 Memorable Images from the 1970s

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If I were forced to pick one decade to live in forever, I’d pick the ‘70s. While the times were full of upheaval, long gas lines, nuclear meltdowns and ugly wars, it was really the last decade before consumerism/commercialism started accosting us at every available opportunity. It was the last decade before professional sports contracts went through the stratosphere. Music was still bought on vinyl for the most part, UHF was still a part of our day-to-day dialings (who remembers trying to watch inappropriate movies with a line through the middle of the screen?), emergency breakthroughs were the hackers incipient call waitings, and flattering fashions like bell bottoms hadn’t yet given way to parachute pants. Life was slower and economies weren’t yet fully globalized, which meant things were simpler. I’m sure a whole host of folks are jumping straight for the comments now to point out how naive some of what I’ve just written is, but that was another great thing about the ‘70s: as a nation, we were still fairly naive and simple, for better, for worse. The 1970s were pre-AIDS, pre-cellphone, and restaurant hostesses still asked “smoking or non?” If you walked into a record store like Peaches, for instance, your choices were Rock, Blues, Jazz, Classical, Show Tunes and Pop. Music and movies weren’t yet marketed to children at every opportunity and the slower pace of life was well-suited to reading sometimes 10-20 page books called liner notes that came inside double and triple albums. Lack of choice made things simpler, though that had its downside too because you were basically stuck with the 3 big television networks’ daily programming unless you could afford cable, which still only had two or three movie channels (Anyone remember Prism?!) a Laser Disc machine or Betamax tapes. Speaking of TV, simpler times meant stations still signed off at 1 or 2am with our national anthem before going to snow. And no one complained! CNN was lurking around the corner, but as far as anyone was concerned in the ‘70s, news only happened at 6 and 11 (pictures at 11!).

These memories, of course, are largely personal. So don’t waste your breath attacking me in the comments today folks. I’m sure you have your own, highly subjective opinion of the ‘70s and that many people disagree with me. After all, Watergate was so disillusioning for so many, how could I call society still naive when that was 1974? What we CAN agree on, however, are the big events and images that paint a visual picture of what the decade was about. Here are 11 that really stick with me day in, day out.

1. May, 1970

Neil Young of CSNY summed the Kent State tragedy up when he sang

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

2. September, 1972

During the “Munich Massacre,” 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian group Black September.

3. May, 1972

Magnavox Odyssey, the first commercially available video game console was released on May 24, 1972. The gaming world would never be the same again.

4. April, 1973

The World Trade Center complex opened on April 4, 1973. The twin towers were the tallest structures in the world until the Sears Tower was built in Chicago later that year.

5. August, 1974

After the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigns.

6. May, 1977

Produced with a budget of (only!) $11 million and released, the original Star Wars film earned $460 million in the United States and $337 million overseas, surpassing Jaws as the highest-grossing film of all time.

7. December, 1977

Saturday Night Fever epitomized the height of the disco craze and the night-club fashions of the times.

8. December, 1978

More than 10% of the Iranian people marched in anti-shah demonstrations on December 10 and 11, 1978.

9. March, 1979

Three Mile Island was the worst accident in U.S. nuclear power plant history as the partial meltdown released small amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.

10. May, 1979

When American Airlines Flight 191 crashed after taking off from O'Hare, all 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. Until 9/11, it was the deadliest air disaster in U.S. history.

11. June, 1979

During the Oil Crisis over the summer of ‘79, cars with a license plate ending in an odd number were only allowed to buy gasoline on odd-numbered days, while even-numbered plate-holders could only purchase gasoline on even-numbered days.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]