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Wednesday is New Comics Day

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Hello, mental_floss! Every Wednesday, I'll be highlighting the five most exciting comic releases of the week. The list may include comic books, graphic novels, digital comics and webcomics. I'll even highlight some Kickstarter comics projects on occasion. There's more variety and availability in comics than there has ever been, and I hope to point out just some of the cool stuff that's out there. If there's a release you're excited about, let's talk about it in the comments.

1. Godzilla Half Century War

By James Stokoe


Has there ever been a more exciting marriage of artist and subject than James Stokoe with his hyper-kinetic, insanely detailed manga-by-way-of-graffiti cartooning style and Godzilla with the fiery, urban debris and frothy, oceanic riptide he always leaves in his wake?

Godzilla Half Century War collects the recent five issue mini-series that shows us Godzilla through the eyes of a human adversary, a Japanese soldier named Ota Murakami, who grapples with the giant lizard over a 50 year time span.

Already deemed a Kaiju classic, this thing is indeed a treat for the eyes. Stokoe does not shy away from drawing every scale on Godzilla's body and every piece of rubble and wreckage. Plus, the radioactive coloring makes this burn off the page or the screen or whatever you choose to read it on.

2. My Dirty Dumb Eyes

By Lisa Hanawalt

Drawn & Quarterly

Lisa Hanawalt is one of the most honestly funny and unique cartoonists working in comics today. Between her star-making illustrated movie reviews for the website Hairpin and her various mini-comics over the past few years it's hard to believe that My Dirty Dumb Eyes is only her first book. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, it collects various short pieces that have appeared online like her hilarious movie reviews of War Horse and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the delightfully odd "Rumors I've Heard About Anna Wintour."

Be prepared for scatological humor and lots of drawings of genitalia, horses and dogs (possibly all in the same drawing). Preview some of the safer for work drawings here.

3. Green Lantern #20

Written by Geoff Johns with a variety of artists


Geoff Johns has been writing Green Lantern for nearly ten years, ever since reintroducing Hal Jordan as the books protagonist in 2004's Green Lantern: Rebirth. His run on the series even continued through last year's reboot and renumbering of all of DC's 52 titles. That long run comes to an end this week as Johns concludes his last story arc, "Wrath of the First Lantern", and the overall story he's been telling about Hal Jordan all these years.

I plan to usually highlight individual books that are easy jumping on points rather than last chapters of a story arc, but, this extra-sized, specially-priced issue is jam-packed with commemorative material like a retrospective of Johns' run that make this a special consideration. Many of the artists he's worked with on this book over the years return for this issue and a special short story following the main "Wrath" story promises to blow fans minds upon reading it.

4. The Property

By Rutu Modan

Drawn & Quarterly

Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan's debut graphic novel Exit Wounds won critical acclaim and many awards including the Eisner Award in 2008 for Best Graphic Novel. Her latest book, released this week, has already been very well reviewed and will probably end up on many "Best Of 2013" lists. It is about a woman who travels to Warsaw with her granddaughter to reclaim family property lost during WWII. Or at least the granddaughter thinks that is the reason.

Modan's clear thin line and subtle, restrained coloring has a very European feel. Her simply cartooned characters moving about within intricately drawn and well researched settings give her work a sense of reality that not every cartoonist can easily achieve.

You can read a short preview of the book here.

5. Alba

By Irene Koh

Alba is an intriguing new webcomic by newcomer Irene Koh about a boarding school in post-WWII Connecticut whose students have become afflicted by ghouls with some sort of disease that turns them into living skeletons.

Though only a few pages have been posted as of this writing, Koh seems to have started by jumping right into the action. Her black and white artwork with its rich, moody washes makes this look like a creepy horror manga while her sense of dialogue shown so far between the young heroine, Alba, and a talking skeleton hint at where the true strength of this comic may lie.

Koh adds a new page every Monday and like a number of webcartoonists recently has chosen to use Tumblr as her publishing platform. Judging by the number of likes and reblogs on each page already, that seems like a smart choice.

Meanwhile, in comics news this past week:

• Writer James Robinson announced that he will be leaving the book Earth 2 with issue #16 and will not be moving on to another DC title in its stead. Though his departure seems amicable enough he is yet another in a long line of creatives that have jumped ship from DC recently, leaving its creative stability in question.

• The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival abruptly announced that it will no longer be putting on its show each year. According to this article on The Comics Journal, the reasons seem to involve irreconcilable differences between the festival's three co-founders.

• The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, lovingly known as TCAF, is going strong and just had one of its biggest shows ever as detailed here on The Comics Reporter. The future may be uncertain for some indie comic centric festivals but long-running shows like TCAF and SPX (the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland) have risen to the top even if they're experiencing some growing pains as evidenced in this article from The Beat.

• It was recently announced that AOL was shutting down popular comics news site Comics Alliance. However, it appears that nothing truly dies in comics.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.