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The Soon-To-Be Named Afternoon Links

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When You Devote Your Life to Pure Evil, Your Looks Really Pay the Price

Back in 2007 Andrew Sullivan noticed Osama Bin Laden was looking rather old in video recordings. So he penned him a satirical open letter in The Atlantic suggesting he put more effort into his personal appearance by employing a little hair dye to take off a few years.

As was reported after his killing one year ago today, Bin Laden did indeed have a stock of Just For Men dye in his compound in Abbottabad.

But the age-defying dye isn’t the only American brand to find itself regrettably tied to a mass-murdering villain. Saddam Hussein loved him some Doritos. Kool-Aid somehow got roped into the Jonestown massacre - and a cliche that won’t die - despite their product not even being used in the mass suicide. Kim Jong Il loved the film Friday the 13th, which he probably thought was a real heart warmer.

Do We Have Any Readers in Sweden?

Is this really how you spend your lunch breaks?

If You Enjoyed the New Batman Trailer This Week You Really Owe A Debt of Gratitude to Those Brave, Selfless (and Probably Unemployed) People All Over the World That Made It Possible

Who knew that Batman had so many sleuthing sidekicks?

Today I Learned on Reddit’s Today I Learned: Jim Davis Got Really Odd With Garfield For About A Week

Back in 1989, Garfield took a week off of devouring lasagna, taking naps and terrorizing Odie to ponder some deep existential dread, ponder his own existence and dwell in debilitating loneliness.

May 2, 1933: Nessie’s Big Debut

According to the History Channel, today marks 79 years since the world famous - and definitely real - Loch Ness Monster was first sighted. Later the Daily Mail ran the following headline declaring Nessie's existence a verifiable truth.

“The Only Difference Between Salvador Dali and Crazy People Is That Dali Is Not Crazy”

Nothing like asking someone a borderline insulting question and getting a very honest, hilarious answer in response. Open Culture posted this video today - and I found myself surprised to realize it’s the first time I’ve ever heard him speak.

In addition to being funny, having the best facial hair ever and taking the best pet walks ever, Dali was also an illeist.

This Gives An Entirely New Meaning to Squatting Over a Hole in the Ground

I promise you won't get in trouble for reading this article at work.

I'll pick a name this weekend. Keep the suggestions coming!

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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]