CLOSE
Original image
Danica Johnson

11 Random Things From Our YouTube Set

Original image
Danica Johnson

A modern re-imagining of the old-timey curiosity cabinet. That's the concept I had the pleasure of running with as the set designer for the Mental Floss on YouTube channel. My interpretation of the challenge was that it needed to be visually action-packed, but also engaging enough for our host, John Green, to interact with freely. My job (obsession and joy) then became drafting that panorama and procuring the pieces to what has since become a singular spectacle of geekery, vintage oddities, and relics of pop culture present and past. But without question, the ongoing highlight of working on this assemblage has been tucking in a bevy of special staff-loaned pieces, visual jokes, and gallery wall of rotating art to keep things ever more interesting with each episode.

From this varied and peculiar collection, the following 11 things are some of my favorites from the set we call "The Salon."

1. Model of Anatomical Male


Conceptually, this anatomy model is just really cool: Half musculature, half vascular, visible skeleton. What puts him over the top is that he's posed in way that suggests either vintage muscle mag or that he's dramatically shaking his fist at whoever it was that ganked his skin suit. Regardless, this guy is pure swag.

2. Wooden Fandom Dolls


The Venn diagram of John and Hank Green's fanbase and the energetic participation of those people in various other fandoms is basically a circle. We love fandoms. When I found the John and Hank, Dr. Who, and Sherlock wooden doll sets, I had to have them immediately. What makes these guys special is the amount of character conveyed just through simple brushwork: The hairlines, clothing detail, and sonic screwdriver props are amazing. The icing on this nerd cake is that by request, artist Kimmy Fiorentino was happy to fanboy my Hank Green doll in a C.G.P. Grey logo shirt. Purchased from Etsy shop: Maddasahatterr.

3. Super Mario Bros. Potted Piranha Plant


Chosen because potted things are welcoming as well as a basic decor move, but we also like to keep a loose grip on the element of danger as much as possible. This classic 8bit fire-spitter is the perfect combination. Purchased at Etsy shop: Geekapalooza.

4. Circus Sideshow Nesting Dolls


This beautifully hand-painted set specifically appealed to me because of John Green's previous work specializing in genetic anomalies. I nearly passed on it having convinced myself there was no way they looked as good as they did online. Instead, they’re even more stunning in-hand. Purchased at Etsy shop: Gravlax.

5. Resin-Encased Bat

This little fella is in no way a standard-definition favorite. Initially I thought the bat would help temper the potential Daycare Effect from the inclusion of a lot of toys and action figures. However, when it arrived I found myself unable to even remove him from his little box. He's on both the set and this list because the one person this thing squicks more than me is John Green, something I find mischievously enjoyable.

6. Special Edition Wonder Woman Action Figure

Another fantastic thing this project has allowed for is the indulgence of my own geekery. I'm a Wonder Woman fangirl and this 1941 replica is the best doll ever produced of my all-time favorite pop culture heroine. While that is a pretty glowing endorsement, unless Neko Case is ever made into a proper action figure of this caliber, the title will likely hold strong.

7. Hello Kitty Specimen Jar

I think of this jar as a handcrafted request for a scientific case study. Why? Because Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth, is British not Japanese, and a purported grade schooler who in reality is pushing 40. (Again, am I really the only one that finds her lack of a mouth incredibly disturbing?) Regardless, her global popularity is only growing stronger and stronger with time and nothing is more suspicious than cuteness. 

8. Bust of Ron Swanson

On the show we deal in facts. Nothing says Certified Authority Beyond Reproach quite like this nicely detailed official bust of Ron Swanson from television’s Parks & Recreation. Purchased from official NBC Universal store.

9. Medieval Portrait of The Family Green

This painting is my all-time favorite work of Vlogbrothers fan art. It features John throwing our home fandom’s (a.k.a. Nerdfighteria, for the uninitiated) salute, alongside his wife, Sarah, known as "The Yeti" for her policy of on-camera avoidance, and their son, Henry, whose likeness is so adorably captured that it hits right in the feels with every glance. Painted by artist Brie Lee.

10. Captain Picard's Inferno

A great example of my reveling the role of Puppet Master. For those who've longed to see Ensign Wesley Crusher—or his alter ego, Sparks McGee—finally flip the script on Jean Luc, this endless Wet Wil-y is for you. The expression on Captain Picard’s face = perfection. Enjoy. (And you’re welcome, Wil Wheaton.)

11. Bow Tie Sculpture Guy

At first glance the bow tie, jacket and hairdo all suggest that it must be the Eleventh Doctor Who, Matt Smith. Wrong. Both the subject of this sculpture and the sculptor himself is none other than Mr. Raoul Meyer, a character ever so slightly less epic than Dr. Who. Meyer was John Green's high school history teacher and most recently the writer of both U.S. and World History courses for yet another show in the Vlogbrothers YouTube Empire, Crash Course. This very special piece is on loan. I’m only hoping to have the strength of character to see to its return as promised.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES