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Kaori Okazaki // Vertical Comics

The 4 Most Interesting Comics of the Week

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Kaori Okazaki // Vertical 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.

1. DEPT. H #1

By Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt
Dark Horse Comics

Matt Kindt and Sharlene Kindt // Dark Horse Comics

A murder mystery set at the bottom of the ocean, Dept. H (also read as “Depth”) is the latest pulp comic with a modern edge from writer/artist Matt Kindt (Superspy, Mind MGMT), and the first of two new books from him this week. When something goes wrong on a deep-sea research station, a special investigator volunteers to inspect the flooded crime scene. Mia, the no-nonsense investigator, shows up at the base and gets right to work, shrugging off her fear of the ocean and her complicated and personal connections to the victim and the crew.

Kindt’s loose, almost naive-looking art style belies his masterful storytelling and penchant for experimentation in form. Dept. H is a comic that will unfold in “real time” over a 24-hour period, with a “depth” chart running alongside each page, marking the progress through the day. Kindt is collaborating with his wife Sharlene, who provides watercolors over his drawings.


By Matt Kindt, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn and David Baron
Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Entertainment

In Matt Kindt’s other new release this week, he switches from mystery to science fiction with Divinity II, the sequel to his acclaimed 2015 Valiant Entertainment series. During the Cold War in the 1960s, Abrams Adams, a Russian cosmonaut, was sent on a secret mission to the farthest reaches of space and was never heard from again. In 2015, he suddenly shows up in the Australian Outback with seemingly omnipotent power and the ability to traverse time and space. The public views him as a god, but Abrams is tormented by memories of the wife and daughter he left behind in his old life.

In Divinity II, we learn that there were two other cosmonauts on that mission. Now a second one, Valentina (Miska) Volkov, has also returned to a world that is very different from the one she left, where communism is dead and Russia is no longer the super power it once was.

Valiant has been excelling at modern superhero comics that have a grounded, cinematic feel and a great sense of politics and world-building. Kindt and artist Trevor Hairsine balance all of that and add a Kubrick-ian sense of mind-bending, universe-spanning wonder.


By Kaori Okazaki
Vertical Comics

Kaori Okazaki // Vertical Comics

Two eccentric sixth graders with troubled home lives find each other in this solemn and touching manga, originally serialized in Japan in 2013. Kaori Okazaki is an author of shōjo manga (Japanese comics aimed at a teenage girl audience), such as the eight-volume Immortal Rain series about a teenage assassin hunting an immortal target. With a title like "The Gods Lie," this new book sounds like another fantasy-based work, but it's a much quieter rumination on family and first love. It is a story of romance between two kids who are too young to fully understand what that even means.


By Dean Haspiel
LINE Webtoons

Dean Haspiel // Line Webtoons

Dean Haspiel is always at the forefront of new comic frontiers. He was an early webcomic creator, having founded the influential ACT-I-VATE website in 2006. He's involved with all types of new ventures, like Archie Comics’ new superhero line and multimedia initiative Trip City. Now, Haspiel is one of the first big-name American comics creators to jump onboard with Korean webcomic juggernaut LINE Webtoon. Much of the U.S. comic-buying public have never heard of LINE Webtoon, but it is a very popular and forward-thinking innovator in the webcomics space. Their comics take advantage of the vertical format of web and mobile browsers to deliver a modern, digital reading experience.

With New Brooklyn, Haspiel introduces a series of interconnected superhero comics that will run exclusively on Webtoons. The first series, The Red Hook, is about a super-thief who is given something called “the omni-fist of altruism” and is transformed into a hero of Brooklyn, one year after the borough (which has somehow become sentient) secedes from the United States.

This is a loony, over-the-top superhero comic full of Brooklyn references and dramatic artwork that brings to mind the bold work of Frank Miller. New episodes of The Red Hook are published every Wednesday, and two new series by some of Haspiel’s friends and collaborators, The Brooklynite and The Purple Heart, will debut later this year.

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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]