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Awkward Family Photos Contest Winners!

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We're so excited to have the Awkward Family Photos Game in our store that we partnered with FamilyAndPartyGames.com to run a contest to give away copies of the game!

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, we posted awkward photos from the game along with caption prompts. We asked you to post your best responses to the prompts in the comments. Now, after much deliberation, I'm proud to present our three winners for each day!

And the winners are...

What would be a perfect caption bubble for the person in this photo?

1. "At least it's not a Sousaphone... Now that would be dorky."
--submitted by Nathan


2. "Aw, man... that song's gonna be stuck in my head for ETERNITY!"
--submitted by Amy


3. "See the clarinet, Danny... be the clarinet."
--submitted by Jody Jordan

What was the last thing said by the person in this photo before it was taken?

1. "I’m right behind you, whatever you do, don’t fart."
--submitted by Wayne_Stevens


2. "I don't care if it's a kid's chair. My butt fits in it perfectly, which means I'm not too big for it!"
--submitted by Tinkerschnitzel


3. "You two are dangerously close to the fire! I'm going to move back and so should y..."
--submitted by Foogie

What words of encouragement can you offer the person in this photo?

1. "That's OK, Mitt, you can run for President someday."
--submitted by RobertSeattle


2. "Lookin' good, champ! Maybe tomorrow we'll take off these foam weights and add real weights!"
--submitted by dreamer55


3. "Imagine you're Darth Maul preparing to battle Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan on Naboo, you Sith Beast!"
--submitted by John

Congratulations to all the winners!

We'll be contacting you for your contact info so we can send your prizes.

Want your own copy of the game? You can pick one up in the mental_floss store today!

Shop the Smart Dads sale!
Want to thank your dad for all the awkward family photos from your childhood? Grab him a gift from the mental_floss store! Now through 6/12, take 17% off of 17 gifts picked just for dads, including the Beer Tasting Tool Kit and the Robot Vacuum.


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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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