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JD Hancock

9 Star Wars Guitars

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JD Hancock

The music of Star Wars was John Williams' themes from a symphony orchestra, with the exception of that little performance by the alien Cantina Band. But Star Wars and rock ’n’ roll go together like peanut butter and jelly because they are both just plain popular. You can’t argue with that! The enjoyment of all things Star Wars gives us plenty of guitars built around the characters and spaceships of the movies. Here are just a few.

1. C3PO

Marc Potter makes stringed instruments from recycled guitar parts and unusual art objects. One of them is the C3PO guitar available in his Etsy shop -but there’s only one! It’s made from a Star Wars collector’s case and a Behringer maple neck.

2. Han Solo in Carbonite

Travis Stevens built a guitar depicting one of the most recreated images from the Star Wars movies: Han Solo frozen in carbonite! Here you see it modeled by Ben Moody of Evanescence, who now owns the guitar.

3. R2D2

GUITAR2-D2 is the name of the guitar Doug built two years ago. He carved the body from poplar and painted all the details, and used works from an Ibenez guitar. See more pictures here

4. Millennium Falcon

Country singer Brian Fisk built his own Millennium Falcon guitar with an R2D2 headstock and even lights and sound effects! Does it work? Why, yes it does! This video contains pictures of the building process.

5, 6, and 7. Spaceships

Tom Bingham makes guitars out of found objects of all kinds. One project was a trio of guitars shaped like various spaceships from the Star Wars saga. Shown here is his Y-wing Fighter guitar from a YouTube video. The others are the B-wing Fighter and Millennium Falcon guitars. Bingham hand-crafts all his guitars, using non-powered tools.

8. Yoda

This Yoda guitar was fashioned for the Phoenix Guitar Gala in 2009. Part of the gala was a charity auction to benefit an after school program. Many celebrities were asked to donate specialty guitars for the auction, and George Lucas provided a customized Gibson Les Paul featuring Yoda to sell. 

9. Darth Vader

There are many Darth Vader guitars, most of them one-of-a-kind projects airbrushed with Vader’s ominous image. The one you are mostly likely to run into is this Fernandes version. Fernandes made 250 limited-edition Darth Vader guitars back in 2001. You can still find one available for sale now and again online, but they will cost you around $1200.

Title photograph by Flickr user JD Hancock.

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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]