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@lenadunham, Instagram

Pod City: 9 New Podcasts To Put on Your Radar

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@lenadunham, Instagram

According to my Stitcher app, I’ve logged more than 1,010 hours listening to podcasts. Below are a few new shows I’ve come across in recent weeks—all of them interesting and well-produced—making me think I could hit that 2,000 mark before I know it.

For more recs, peruse the Pod City archive. In no particular order:

1. Women of the Hour

Lena Dunham and BuzzFeed bring us this new podcast, which features conversations about “friendship, love, work, bodies, and more.” Guests in the first episode include besties Amy Sedaris and Todd Oldham and Emma Stone.

2. Codebreaker

Do you love technology? Do you loathe it? Either way, this show might be up your alley. Hosted by Ben Brock Johnson, this co-production from Marketplace and Tech Insider explores tech-based issues. (In the first season, all episodes pose the same question about an aspect of technology: “Is it evil?”) As a bonus, each ep also includes a secret code. Figure it out, and you can access more content on the show’s website.

3. Conversation with Alanis Morissette

The singer celebrated the 20th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill this year, but her podcast is far tamer and more soft-spoken than that album. In the series premiere, Morissette tells us she’ll discuss everything from psychology to science to art, with some politics and feminism thrown in. Her first guest is relationship expert Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily EVEN After

4. Esquire Classic

So far I’m really enjoying this new show, which digs up classic nonfiction pieces from Esquire and examines how they’re still relevant or influential today. The latest ep delves into The Crack-Up, the series of personal essays by F. Scott Fitzgerald that were originally published in 1936. 

5. The Trail Tapes

If you’re looking for unconventional political coverage, check out NBC News’s new offering, hosted by Jake Heller. Short eps spotlight “real people who offer a unique perspective on the election,” like a professional Donald Trump impersonator. (He’s not hurting for business right now, to say the least.)

6. The New Yorker Radio Hour

The New Yorker already has a few podcasts, but this new WNYC show is its own thing, not solely relying on the contents of the magazine. Episodes feature stories from New Yorker contributors, well-known folks, and regular New Yorkers. 

7. Tanis

If you enjoy fiction podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and The Black Tapes—or, hey, if you’re just psyched The X-Files is coming back—sample this new serialized docudrama that delves into conspiracy theories and the unknown.

8. Aw Jeez! A Fargo Podcast

As Season 2 of the FX drama heats up, fans may want to hear this thoughtful Fargo podcast produced by Minnesota Public Radio. Sure, the series takes place in North Dakota, but hosts Tracy Mumford and Jay Gabler still offer unique perspectives on life in a snowy state. So far, guests have included show creator Noah Hawley and an NYU professor who taught a class on the Coen brothers.

9. Surprisingly Awesome

Writer and director Adam McKay (Anchorman, Eastbound & Down) and Adam Davidson (NPR’s Planet Money) share fascinating and funny facts about, in their words, “topics that seem really, really boring.” The first episode is all about mold.

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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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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]