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Inspiring Quotes from 10 Influential Women in Tech

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1. “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.”
— Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (pictured), the U.S. Navy’s oldest active-duty officer at the time of her retirement, developer of the first compiler for a computer programming language, developer of UNIVAC I and COBOL, and coiner of the terms “computer bug” and “debugging.”

2. “I was told I'd never make it to VP rank because I was too outspoken. Maybe so, but I think men will always find an excuse for keeping women in their 'place.' So, let's make that place the executive suite and start more of our own companies.”
— Jean Bartik, one of the first programmers of the ENIAC; she later went on to work with BINAC and UNIVAC I computers, then became one of the early editors of computer information publishing at Auerbach Publishers, Data Decisions, and McGraw-Hill. 

3. “I was a bit of an artist, and somewhere along the way had gotten the idea that computers could be used for animation and artists, because in-betweening was so tedious. . . Of course, everyone thought I was nuts.”
— Carla Meninsky, engineer for Atari, who coded Atari 2600 games Warlords, Dodge ‘Em, and Star Raiders.

4. “We accepted education as the means to rise above the limitations that a prejudiced society endeavored to place upon us.”
— Evelyn Boyd Granville, one of the first black women in the U.S. to earn a PhD in Mathematics, and later, an analyist and developer in IBM for Project Vanguard and Project Mercury, which she called “the most interesting job of [her] lifetime.”

5. “[T]he world would be a better place if more engineers, like me, hated technology. The stuff I design, if I’m successful, nobody will ever notice. Things will just work, and be self-managing.”
— Radia Pearlman, “the Mother of the Internet,” IEEE fellow, inventor of Spanning-Tree Protocol (STP), TRILL, and TORTIS, a programming language for children.

6. “Most engineers like to proceed from A to B to C in a series of logical steps. I'm the rare engineer who says the answer is obviously Z and we will get on with that while you guys work out how to do all the intermediate steps. It makes me a dangerous person to employ in IT but a useful one."
— Sophie Wilson, designer of the Acorn Micro-Computer and BBC Micro, BBC BASIC programming language, and the ARM (Acorn RISC Machine), a foundational technology for handheld computing devices.

7. “ I designed the executive program for handling situations when there are too many calls, to keep it operating efficiently without hanging up on itself. Basically it was designed to keep the machine from throwing up its hands and going berserk.”
— Erna Schneider Hoover on her revolutionary computerized telephone switching method for Bell Laboratories. Hoover was awarded one of the earliest software patents and became the first female supervisor of any technical department at Bell, cementing her place as a pioneer in modern communications technology.  

8. “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”
— Hedy Lamarr, “the most beautiful woman in Europe,” Hollywood “Golden Age” actress, and co-developer of a frequency-hopping/spread spectrum technology based on a player piano. Lamarr never earned a penny from her patent; after her patent expired, the technology was used in guided torpedoes by the U.S. Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

9. "I think it's very important to get more women into computing. My slogan is: Computing is too important to be left to men."
— Karen Spärck Jones, Professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge Computer Laboratory. Spärck Jones was a vocal advocate for women in computing and technology; she introduced the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) used by most search engines today.

10. “If I am remembered at all, I would like to be remembered as my family storyteller. It has been a great life.”
— Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, who is remembered as one of the original six female programmers of ENIAC, software designer for BINAC and UNIVAC I, and wife of John Mauchly, co-inventor of the ENIAC and UNIVAC I.

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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]