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7 Lesser-Known Hobbies for the Bored and Adventurous

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Wikimedia Commons

Admit it—you're bored. It’s not your fault entirely; our society has removed the need for labor and replaced it with a ravenous emptiness, aching to be entertained and distracted. But model trains don’t do it for you and you just can’t devote any more hours of your life to staring at glowing rectangular screens. It’s OK! Try some of these lesser-known hobbies. You might just find one that suits.

1. Slack-lining

It’s like tightrope walking…except the rope isn’t tight. It’s elastic and bouncy, usually just a few feet off the ground. It is tied just taut enough to allow a well-balanced person to walk across it. It can be used to increase muscle control, core strength, and balance. Then, once you get the hang of it, you can go all Parkour on it, using it as a trampoline to perform tricks of agility and balance. It isn’t the most graceful of agility sports, but it does look like a lot of fun.   

2. Thrift Store Monster Paintings

Twisted Sifter 

It’s a sad fact of life that no matter how much grandma treasured that faded painting her sister drew of a girl feeding a deer under an apple tree, the people who clean out her house for the estate sale are going to think it’s hideous. And it will join thousands of other equally uninspired paintings leaning against walls at thrift shops across the country. But what if you could upcycle those boring pastorals into something truly inspiring? Then Thrift Store Monster Paintings, the brainchild of artists Chris McMahon and Thryza Segal, is for you. Once you've painted some glowing space slime in the girl’s hand and a herd of giant purple mutant deer behind her, you've got yourself some inspiring art.  

3. Rock Balancing

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Nature’s Jenga—except way cooler. The purpose of rock balancing is simply to create a tower of rocks, using only gravity to keep them stuck together. A particular goal is to create a structure, which looks like it can’t possibly exist without adhesive. It’s one of the cheapest art forms there is, yet one that requires the touch of a violin virtuoso and the precision of neurosurgeon.

4. Modular Origami

Wikimedia Commons 

Origami cranes are for 9 year olds. Time to fold paper with the big boys, friend. Welcome to the unholy marriage of geometry and paper cuts that we call Modular Origami. It differs from regular origami in that you always intertwine more than one piece of paper, and it really helps if you’re a surgeon with an engineering degree from MIT. But it’s worth it.

5. O'Ekaki Puzzles

Amazon

O’Ekaki Puzzles were invented by Japanese game-genius Tetsuya Nishio. Like Sudoku, O’Ekaki is a grid puzzle where you have to deduce what goes in each square. But this time you have to figure out if a square is supposed to be black or white, forming a pixel picture if you do it right. You can learn the basics here, or dive right into it by buying one of Nishio’s many books of O’Ekaki.

6. Lampworking

Glass-Sculpting

Etsy is booming; skilled artisans are supplying handmade crafts to a hungry public. You should get in on this. Lampworking  just may be your ticket. It’s glass work, but with no terrifying furnace involved. It uses a single extreme heat source, usually a blowtorch, to melt and shape glass. It’s commonly used for beads, but there’s no need to stop there. Marbles, ornaments, pottery—any of these can be hand-made in your own garage.

7. Contact Juggling

Ministry of Manipulation 

Remember in Labyrinth, where David Bowie hypnotically weaved and spun those crystal balls in his hands? That wasn’t a special effect; it was Michael Moschen, renowned contact juggler. He stood behind Bowie with arms outstretched, performing the astoundingly graceful movements of the magic crystals. In contact juggling, you keep the ball against your body, or at least give the illusion of doing so. A good juggler can manipulate the balls in such a way that your logical mind will tell you there is no way he can still be in control of them. If you always wanted to be a ballerina, and had the arms for it, but not the legs, you may want to give this a try. 

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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