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Makoto Yukimura // Dark Horse Comics

The Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Makoto Yukimura // Dark Horse 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.

PLANETES OMNIBUS

By Makoto Yukimura
Dark Horse Comics

When people recommend a good “gateway” manga for American comic readers, one choice that comes up often is Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes. Originally serialized in Japanese magazine Weekly Morning from 1999 to 2004, Planetes is a “hard sci-fi” drama set in the year 2075 that follows a crew on a debris-collection ship in outer space. It is highly recommended by manga enthusiasts, in part, because of its realistic tone, rich backstories, and complex themes involving environmentalism, terrorism, and existentialism. Another reason is Yukimura's artwork, which mixes cartoony characters with detailed backgrounds and machinery to ground it all in a sense of realism without losing the energy often associated with good manga.

Dark Horse has brought a lot of quality manga to North American readers in the past couple of years, and with Planetes they’ve assembled the entire story into one giant 500+ page omnibus with restored color sequences.

SCARLET WITCH #1

By James Robinson, Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire
Marvel Comics

Despite being a mainstay in Avengers-related comics, the Scarlet Witch has never had her own series (at least one she didn’t share with her one-time android husband The Vision) until now. This new series sees Wanda Maximoff wandering the Marvel Universe trying to fix magic, which has become broken the world over. Marvel has had enough success with solo Avengers series after the breakout hit Hawkey that they’re willing to apply an appropriate variation of the formula to different characters. Now, it’s Wanda’s turn.

James Robinson will be the regular writer, and he is coming off Airboy, an interesting creator-owned comic at Image. Each issue of this book will feature his work with a different artist starting with Vanesa Del Rey, who is an exciting up-and-coming talent. Future issues will include collaborations with other outstanding female artists like Marguerite Sauvage, Annie Wu, Tula Lotay, and Joelle Jones, as well as some talented men like Chris Visions, Javier Pulido, Steve Dillon, and more.

THE BARRIER #1

By Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
Panel Syndicate

Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente are the Louis C.K. and Radiohead of comics. Their enormous success selling their digital comic The Private Eye through a pay-what-you-want model inspired other self-publishers to experiment with similar sales methods and helped bring self-published digital comics to a more mainstream audience.

Now, through PanelSyndicate.com, the team has returned with a new five-issue mini-series called The Barrier. As they did with every issue of The Private Eye, they have released this issue to the public with no prior PR rollout. Set on the Mexico-U.S. border, The Barrier follows two characters, one on each side: Liddy, a female rancher fed up with members of a drug cartel killing her livestock, and Oscar, a Honduran who risks his life to cross over into Texas. Oscar’s half of the comic is all in untranslated Spanish but, thanks to Martin’s deft storytelling skills, you really don’t need dialogue to follow the action.

At first, The Barrier reads like a Cormac McCarthy novel, but by the end a clear science-fiction element reveals itself. Just as The Private Eye used sci-fi to tell a story about our current struggles with privacy and technology, The Barrier uses the genre to talk about a hot-button political issue.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

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]

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