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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

How to Quit Your Job in Klingon … The Right Way

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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

David Waddell, a city councilman in Indian Trail, North Carolina, decided to end the year with dramatic flair by quitting his job and submitting his resignation in Klingon. The story went viral, and while the mayor, Michael Alvarez, was none too pleased with Waddell’s stunt, saying it was “an embarrassment for Indian Trail, and it’s an embarrassment for North Carolina,” most of the reaction from commenters on social media was some variation on “Ha! Awesome!” The combination of take-this-job-and-shove-it irreverence, only-in-America local politics, and hardcore geek pop culture was a hit.

But like Indian Trail's mayor, Klingon speakers weren’t exactly thrilled. You see, Waddell’s letter wasn’t even written in Klingon. Not good Klingon anyway. Sure, it was written in pIqaD—the pointy, angular Klingon script—and it strung some Klingon words together, but there was no regard for grammar! No true translation!

Take the first sentence, which he translates as “Teach (the) city (the) constitution.” What it actually says is “city teacher ‘chonshtitution’.” There’s no verb! No attempt to translate “constitution”! It’s as if he translated “Give the doctor the scalpel” into Spanish as “Benefactor doctor scalpelo.” Such is the danger of pure dictionary translation, or in this case, relying solely on the automatic Klingon translation tool. You still gotta know what you’re doing. Apparently, Waddell doesn’t. If he wants to ride this stunt into the senate (his plan is to pursue a write-in bid for Kay Hagan’s seat), he’s going to have to do more to prove himself to his Klingon-speaking constituency. Granted, it’s a small constituency, but they care a lot about honor. And they’re prone to violence.

If you want to quit your job in Klingon, here are a few suggestions for going about it the proper and honorable way:

1. You could submit the valid re-translation of Waddell’s letter provided by James William McCleary, a commenter on the original Charlotte Observer article, which begins “vengvaD paQDI'norgh tay yIghojmoH!” (Teach civilized teachings to the city!)

2. You could hurl insults like “Hab SoSlI' Quch (Your mother has a smooth forehead!) or “petaQ!” (a strong epithet of uncertain meaning.)

3. You could propose Hay'chu'—duel to the death—with your boss.

Whatever you do, do it grammatically correctly, and with honor. And choose your next job wisely. Remember: bIQongtaHvIS nItlhejchugh targhmey bIvemDI' nItlhej ghIlab ghewmey—If you sleep with targs, you'll wake up with glob flies.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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