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Marvel Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Marvel Comics

Every week I write about the most interesting new comics hitting comic shops, bookstores, digital, and the web. Feel free to comment below if there's a comic you've read recently that you want to talk about or an upcoming comic that you'd like me to consider highlighting.

The Arab of the Future

By Riad Sattouf
Metropolitan Books 

Riad Sattouf is the son of an aggressively optimistic Syrian father and a very reserved French mother. When Riad was a boy, his father dragged his family from France to Libya to Syria in a quest to discover Arab society. In his graphic novel memoir The Arab of the Future, Sattouf tells the story of his childhood, showing his family traversing the troubled political and social landscape of the Middle East in the ‘70s and ‘80s and the way it foreshadows the landscape of today.

Sattouf was a columnist for France’s infamous Charlie Hebdo for ten years where he published cartoon anecdotes about his life. The Arab of the Future was released earlier this year in France and has been a huge best seller. It’s already being compared to biographical classics like Maus and Persepolis, and the modern relevance of the countries in which it is set is sure to make this a widely talked about book this year.

More information and an extensive preview here.

Karnak #1

By Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino and Dan Brown
Marvel Comics 

If you’ve been watching ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you are probably familiar with the term “Inhumans.” Introduced as a concept in season two, Inhumans are normal humans with latent superpowers that can be activated by something called the Terrigen Mists. There’s no telling how many Inhumans are out there, waiting to be activated. The comics focus on a small group of Royal Family Inhumans like Black Bolt, Medusa, and Crystal. Among that group is Karnak, their resident philosopher/martial artist who has the ability to detect the flaw in anything (usually so he can then lethally karate chop it).

The classic Inhumans are pretty low on the mainstream recognition scale (at least until the 2019 feature film). Karnak is not even the most popular Inhuman, so he seems an unlikely choice for a high profile new series by a bestselling writer. Then again, he also seems like the kind of character Warren Ellis loves to write: cold, calculating, wickedly sarcastic, and able to see things that others can not. Since rejuvenating the creatively-dormant Moon Knight for Marvel this past year, Ellis seems to be taking on the challenge of making forgotten characters cool again—or cool for the first time.

Here’s a preview.  

Cognetic #1

By James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan
Boom! Studios 

Cognetic, a new three-issue mini-series by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan, is a spiritual sequel to their other mini-series Memetic (a collected edition of which also hits stores this week—it's one you should check out because it is best-of-the-year material). Once again, they are telling the story of an unstoppable contagion that wipes out humanity, although, in the afterword, Tynion promises that we won’t be able to guess where this one is going. Whereas Memetic offset its unrelentingly bleak scenario with a dark sense of humor—it was, after all, about a sloth gif that causes the end of the world—Cognetic doubles down on apocalyptic dread.

This 40-page first issue opens with a dolphin that appears to be patient zero for a rapidly spreading mind control virus. An FBI agent has a pretty good idea what is going on, but is distracted trying to save her wife and daughter, who head to New York City against her warnings. Tynion, who now is part of DC Comics’ Bat-Family, is poised to become a big star and Donovan, with his somber, yet approachable style, proves to be a great partner for him in telling apocalyptic tales that stand out from the rest. 

Preview's here.

The Shield #1

By Adam Christopher, Chuck Wendig, Drew Johnson, Kelly Fitzpatrick
Dark Circle Comics 

The first patriotic-themed superhero was not Captain America, but the less-known Shield who made his first appearance in 1940’s Pep Comics #1, published by a company that would one day become known as Archie Comics. Shield appeared in many incarnations over the years, mostly published through Archie Comics’ superhero imprint, Red Circle Comics. Archie Comics has been working hard to modernize their image these days, and they have turned Red Circle Comics into Dark Circle Comics, an imprint that puts out darker and grittier iterations of Red Circle characters.

This new Shield happens to be a woman and has been fighting for America since the days of the American Revolution. She has died over and over for her country, only to be reborn when she's needed again. Now, in 2015, she has once again returned but with no memory of who she is. This new series is co-written by two novelists, Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig, who are fairly new to the comics world. It is drawn by Drew Johnson, who DC fans will know from his stint on Wonder Woman.

Here’s a preview.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]