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Google Books

10 Pressing Questions About Bicycle Use and Ownership From 1869

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Google Books

The Velocipede, Its Past, Its Present & Its Future is a rollicking 1869 book about bicycles written by Joseph Firth Bottomley. These inventions were so popular, enthusiasts in the U.S. declared, "Walking is now on its last legs." Bottomley, a staid Brit, scoffed at this proclamation, but ventured to explain his own optimistic predictions about the machine's future. “The progress of the Bicycle seems steady and sure," he writes. "But until velocipedestrination becomes very common there will be many situations in which the rider may be placed, in which he will be in considerable doubt what to do."

He follows by listing a series of bicycle-related concerns that were raised by an American writer in a Western journal. As a modern "velocigymnast," I can confirm that many of these questions have gone 145 years without answers.

1. "If a fellow goes with his velocipede to call upon a lady, whose house has no front yard, and no back yard, and there are a lot of boys in front of it ready to pounce upon his machine, and the lady is smiling through the window, what is he to do with it?"

2. "If a fellow riding his velocipede, meets a lady on a particularly rough bit of road, where it requires both hands to steer, is he positively required to let go with one hand to lift his hat; and, if so, what will he do with his machine?"

3. "If a fellow, riding his velocipede, overtakes a lady carrying two bundles and a parcel, what should he do with it?"

4. "If a fellow, riding his machine, meets three ladies walking abreast, opposite a particularly tall curb stone, what ought he to do with it?"

5. "If a lady meets a fellow riding his machine, and asks him to go shopping with her, what can he do with it?"

6. "If the hind wheel of a fellow’s machine flings mud just above the saddle, ought he to call on people who do not keep a duplex mirror and a clothes-brush in the front hall?"

7. "If a fellow, riding his velocipede, encounters his expected father-in-law, bothering painfully over a bit of slippery side-walk, what shall he do with it?"

8. "If people, coming suddenly around corners, will run against a fellow’s machine, is he bound to stop and apologize, or are they?"

9. "If a fellow is invited to attend a funeral procession, ought he to ride his machine?"

10. "Is it proper to ride a velocipede to church; and, if so, what will he do with it when he gets there?”

[All images from 'The Velocipede, Its Past, Its Present & Its Future' via Google Books]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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