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9 Memorable Images from the '90s

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Finally, today we move into the ‘90s. If you missed previous posts this week, the ‘60s can be found here, the ‘70s here, and the ‘80s down yonder. For me, the ‘90s were pretty exciting times--college, my first job in the Big Apple, The New York Times switching over from black and white photos on the cover to color, watching real estate prices skyrocket, buying my first personal computer and first cellphone, and, of course, the biggest deal for a guy who now makes his living online, the launch of the World Wide Web. Below are 9 images that sum up the decade for me. How about you all? What memories do you have that I missed? Hope you enjoyed this little visual trip down memory lane! I sure did reliving it as I was writing these posts.

1. April, 1990

After many delays, on April 24, 1990, the Hubble telescope finally launched into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, changing the face of astronomy forever.

2. January, 1991

Operation Desert Storm, a UN-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait began on January 17th, 1991.

3. December, 1991

On December 25, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formally dissolved.

4. August, 1991

On 6 August 1991, CERN, a pan European organization for particle research, publicized the new World Wide Web project. All Al Gore jokes aside, it’s, of course, impossible to nail down the exact birth date of the Web or the Internet, but it certainly took as all by storm in the early ‘90s!

5. September, 1993

Israeli PM, Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. Presiden Bill Clinton, and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat shook hands at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony on 13 September 1993.

6. August, 1997

On August 31st, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a tragic car accident in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, France.

7. January, 1998

President Bill Clinton was caught in a media-frenzied scandal involving inappropriate relations with a White House intern Monica Lewinsky, first announced on January 21st, 1998.

8. May, 1998

Seinfeld’s 9-season run ended with a 75-minute, final episode on May 14, 1998.

9. December, 1999

Y2K, thankfully, didn’t amount to much of anything outside a lot of stress and anxiety on December 31st, 1999.

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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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