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11 Brilliant Gifts for the Gardener in Your Life

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A proven method of relaxation, gardening can ease the stresses of daily life and provide a rich resource for giving homes a unique and colorful identity. If you know someone with a green thumb, consider these 11 gift ideas sure to plant a seed of gratitude.

1. AMBIENTA GROW LAMP; $270

Cold weather doesn’t have to interrupt a gardener’s activities. The Ambienta acts as a kind of mini-greenhouse for an indoor table, showering up to six plants with nourishing LED light. The mushroom-shaped design is easy on the eyes; so is the optional dimmer switch for when your giftee wants a more relaxed atmosphere.

Find It: UncommonGoods

2. BOSMERE WATERING CAN; $86

Sure, your loved ones could use an empty jug to act as a water source for plants—if they enjoy drowning the greenery. Bosmere’s 1-liter watering can is tapered to allow for targeted and steady placement of the water stream, making it ideal for hard-to-reach places without running the risk of too much liquid. The copper material is unlacquered, meaning the can will slowly oxidize with use and eventually slip into a warmly lived-in finish.

Find It: Amazon

3. RACHIO SMART SPRINKLER CONTROLLER; $200

If you know someone looking to seize more control over their sprinkler system to help conserve water, the Rachio system is the one to beat. The module can replace virtually any existing central command center, connecting to the Rachio app and allowing for on-the-go control of the timer. Rachio will even synch the system to weather forecasts, easing up when it’s expected to rain.

Find It: Amazon

4. GARDENER’S TOOL SEAT; $30 TO $34

Foldable for storage, this seat cures two of gardening’s most annoying demands: not having a place to sit and not having the right tool within reach. A small stool saves wear on the knees, while 21 pockets and a large pouch under the seat offer room for any implement you need.

Find It: UncommonGoods

5. "THE VARIOUS VARIETIES OF FRUITS OR VEGETABLES"; $38

This sprawling 39 by 27-inch guide, detailing over 300 varieties of fruit, can be hung on the wall for easy reference. From citrus to mangosteens, your giftee will never have to guess how each is related to the other again. A vegetable-tree version is sold separately; both are printed with vegetable-based inks.

Find It: PopChartLab

6. RECYCLE A BOTTLE PLANT NANNY STAKE; $15 OR $17

Both eco-friendly and a sneaky way to avoid being asked to tend to plants while a friend is on vacation, these stakes sink into potted soil and slowly release water from upturned wine or plastic bottles.

Find It: UncommonGoods

7. MIRACLE-GRO AEROGARDEN; $160

If you know someone who wants to keep a supply of fresh herbs for the kitchen but gets lost in the details, Miracle-Gro’s indoor garden is a perfect solution. The soil-free bed can grow cilantro, parsley, dill, and other seasonings using a fool-proof on-board display that offers care instructions in real time.

Find It: Amazon

8. SUCCULENT LIVING WALL PLANTER KIT; $110

Vertical gardening is a conversation-starter, and you can help a friend ignite one with this startling frame that uses hardy moss and a thin layer of mesh to keep succulent plants hanging in there.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

9. MAKERSKIT HANGING AIR PLANT TERRARIUM; $29

Known as an “air plant,” the Tillandsia can thrive with little water and soil, making it ideal for this ceiling-mounted orb that’s perfect for the home or office. The box includes twine, moss, and stones for decoration and a coupon that can be redeemed for the live plant.

Find It: Amazon

10. KITCHEN COMPOSTER; $55

If making compost sounds unappealing, it’s probably because you haven’t come across the right tool for the job yet. This composter fits neatly under a kitchen sink and accepts food waste to mix with a Bokashi blend to create topsoil for gardens. The airproof lid guarantees no funky smell; the included spigot can also produce liquid fertilizer for houseplants.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

11. BAMBOO WORK AND GARDENING GLOVES; $9

The biggest inconvenience of gardening: trying to scrub the dirt off your hands. The second-largest: dealing with the sweat produced by rubber-coated gloves. Solution: bamboo, which allows the gloves to breathe, is naturally antibacterial, and ensures a snug fit.

Find It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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