Original image
Quirk Books

Swissted: Punk Rock Gig Posters Reinterpreted in Swiss Modernist Style

Original image
Quirk Books

On the surface, it might not seem like punk rock and Swiss modernism have much in common—but pick up Mike Joyce's book Swissted, out tomorrow, and you'll see that the music and art movements blend beautifully. "I always liked that my two favorite things seemed completely at odds with one another," Joyce tells mental_floss. "Punk has an anti-establishment ethos and Swiss modernism is very structured. But at the same time there’s a common thread between the two—the Swiss modernists purged extraneous decoration to create clear communication, while punk rock took on self-indulgent rock and roll and stripped it to its core. So I thought it would be an interesting study to combine the two and see what happened."

Joyce, who owns the New York City-based Stereotype Design, grew up listening to punk and went to hardcore and indie rock shows in the mid-to-late '80s. "I was always really inspired by the aesthetic of underground music and designed t-shirts, flyers, and cassette demos for my friends who were in local bands at the time," he says. In the early 1990s, Joyce attended Alfred University's School of Art and Design and studied graphic design under Fred Troller, a Swiss-born graphic designer who introduced the student to International Typographic Style, which originated in Switzerland in the 1950s and emphasized cleanliness and readability. "To me, it was completely new and fresh," Joyce says. "I loved how completely different it was than anything I'd ever seen up to that point."

Swissted features 200 redesigned posters from shows that actually happened, featuring bands like the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys, Weezer, Black Flag, and more—all ready to be ripped out and hung on the wall. Joyce turned to the internet to find his source material: the original gig posters. "Some of the original poster and flyer artists have posted their work on various sites and blogs and there are a lot of collectors with an impressive amount of old school work displayed," he says. "There’s also a brilliant book, F***ed Up + Photocopied, that served as a great source of inspiration."

Flyers have long served as an artistic inspiration for Joyce. "In just one random collection of flyers you can find minimalism, collage, transformative art, beautiful typography, black humor, unique handwriting and lettering, abstraction, political statements—the list goes on," he says. "So that basic spirit and aesthetic has always been a big inspiration to all of my design work." That said, his goal with Swissted was to do something completely different than the original posters—reimagining them into a cohesive collection—while including all of the information from the posters.

To design the posters, Joyce looked at the work of Swiss poster designers like Armin Hofmann, Emil Ruder, and Josef Muller-Brockmann. "If you look at Muller-Brockmann’s 'Musica Viva' poster series, there’s not a musical instrument or musician to be seen" Joyce says. "He used shape, structure, motion, color, and typography to evoke the feeling of music. And while doing this, they also somehow achieve perfectly clear communication through abstraction, which to me is brilliant. It’s kind of the opposite of how things are done today where everything needs to be so literal and hit you over the head."

And the font each poster features is not Helvetica—it's lowercase berthold akzidenz-grotesk medium.

One of Joyce's favorite designs is the 45 Grave poster. "I really wanted to focus on how beautiful and eye-catching a portion of the band’s name could be and what interesting aesthetic things would happen if the numbers intersected and combined with each other," he says.

In his interpretations of the Sex Pistols and Red Hot Chili Peppers posters, the artist "wanted to create a sense of tension and motion."

A few of the posters, however, do have a slightly literal interpretation. "The Fang design has a wink to the band’s name in that the white triangle can be seen as one menacing fang," Joyce says. "It’s been really fun for me to hear people guess at the meaning behind certain designs or for them to come up with their own interpretations. It kind of reminds of what a lot of songwriters say about fans re-interpreting their lyrics. After a while, the song belongs to everyone and not just the songwriter."

The project, Joyce says, plays with the idea that "a lot of punk rock album art didn’t fit within people’s pre-conceived ideas of what the genre should look like. Album covers by the likes of the Adolescents, Germs, Gang of Four, the Buzzcocks, and Public Image Limited used minimal or bold typography to create memorable and lasting cover art which was at odds with what people perceived to be 'punk.' I think Swissted is a tribute to the true independent spirit of punk in that it shows there’s not one specific way in which things should be done."

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.