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INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY/Facebook

TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY!

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INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY/Facebook

IF YOU ARE WONDERING WHY THERE IS SO MUCH SHOUTING GOING ON IN SOCIAL MEDIA TODAY, IT IS BECAUSE OCTOBER 22 IS INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY! YOU CAN'T WRITE IN ALL CAPS UNLESS YOU ALSO HAVE AN EXCLAMATION POINT! IT ONLY SEEMS NATURAL!

But of course, writing in all caps does NOT seem natural for me. INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY is celebrated twice a year, on June 28th and October 22nd. Occasionally, someone else will proclaim a different day as Caps Lock Day, so everyone can have another round of fun.

Since the internet developed into a global meeting place, writing in all caps has been considered the equivalent of shouting. Some users only need to be told that once, and they either dial it back or begin to shout all the time to emphasize how IMPORTANT THEIR OPINION IS. National Days made a greeting card that emphasizes that opinion.

Others just don't like having to switch back and forth between capitals and lower case letters, so they capitalize everything because it's just easier for them, even though it annoys everyone they correspond with.

Kombijdepolitie, which I believe is a Dutch police academy, offered their own joke.

October 22nd was the original day set aside for INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY, but June 28th was added in honor of famed pitchman Billy Mays, who died on June 28th, 2009. He always sounded like he was talking in all caps. You can download an app that turns your caps lock key into a Billy Mays key. When you use the key, you'll hear his memorable voice. But some people just relabeled their caps lock key the old fashioned way.

For tips on using your caps lock key, and for celebrating INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY, see this Facebook page, which for some reason celebrates the holiday June 1-2.

This holiday is a convenient day to look at the work of Don Marquis, the creator of Archy and Mehitabel, who were a cockroach and a cat that appeared in Marquis' newspaper column. Archy loved to type out his thoughts, which were all lowercase because he had to jump on the keys one at a time, and could not deal with the shift key. However, one day he discovered the shift lock key, and the result was the poem "CAPITALS AT LAST," originally published in 1933. (via METAFILTER)

Happy INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY, everyone!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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