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Getty Images/Erin McCarthy

15 Less-than-Inspirational Quotes from a Book of Moral Advice

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Getty Images/Erin McCarthy

Charles H. Spurgeon was a nineteenth century Baptist preacher whose London sermons were attended by thousands at a time. The sermons were transcribed and published, and every week, thousands of copies were sold for a penny apiece. He also published dozens of books. One of his best-sellers was a book of moral teachings written in a "rustic style" for the benefit of "ploughmen and common people." It was essentially a collection of popular quaint sayings such as "what's good for the goose is good for the gander," organized around themes like "On Patience," "On Gossips," and "Thoughts about Thought."

The sayings embody what we might think of as good old country wisdom. Some of the sayings, wise as they may be, don't exactly boost the spirit. But sometimes what we need, in our age of relentlessly positive inspirational quote sharing, is a refreshingly discouraging breath of stale air. So here are 15 anti-inspirational quotes from John Ploughman's talk: Plain Advice for Plain People.

1. (Don't) Reach for the stars!

"It is not wise to aim at impossibilities—it is a waste of powder to fire at the man in the moon."

2.  (Don't) Go for it! (Don't) Take the bull by the horns!

"I have often been told to be bold, and take the bull by the horns, but, as I rather think that the amusement is more pleasant than profitable, I shall leave it to those who are so cracked already that an ugly poke with a horn would not damage their skulls." 

3. It will (not) all work out in the end!

"He who rides in the carriage may yet have to clean it. Sawyers change places, and he who is up aloft may have to take his turn in the pit. In less than a thousand years we shall all be bald and poor too, and who knows what he may come to before that?"

4. Help others and you will (not) reap the rewards!

"The young sucker runs away with the sap from the old tree. The foal drains its mother, and then kicks her. The old saying is 'I taught you to swim and now you would drown me,' and many a time it comes true."

5. Whatever you do, (don’t) keep your hopes alive!

"Eggs are eggs, but some are rotten; and so hopes are hopes, but many of them are delusions."

6. Work hard and you will (not) get what you deserve!

"Expect to get half of what you earn, a quarter of what is your due, and none of what you have lent, and you will be near the mark."

7. You can (not) always make a fresh start!

"Make as few changes as you can; trees often transplanted bear little fruit. If you have difficulties in one place you will have them in another; if you move because it is damp in the valley, you may find it cold on the hill."

8. Let's (not) all support each other's efforts!

"Better discourage a man's climbing than help him to break his neck."

9. (Don't) Get out of that rut at work!

"Plod is the word. Every one must row with such oars as he has, and as he can't choose the wind, he must sail by such as God sends him."

10. Technology can (not) change our lives!

"It is far better to work with an old-fashioned spade which suits your hand than with a new fangled invention you don't understand."

11. (You cannot) Be your own best friend!

"Beware of no man more than yourself: we carry our worst enemies within us." 

12. Be afraid to depend on others when you need to!

"Blessed is he who expects nothing of poor flesh and blood, for he shall never be disappointed."

13. You can (not) be anything you want to be!

"It is true you must bake with the flour you have, but if the sack is empty it might be quite as well not to set up for a baker."

14. You really can (not)!

"Every minnow wants to be a whale, but it is prudent to be a little fish while you have but little water."

15. (No, really.) You can (not)!

"One chap will make a London clerk, and another will do better to plow, and sow, and reap, and mow, and be a farmer's boy. It's no use forcing them; a snail will never run a race, nor a mouse drive a wagon."

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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]