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15 of the World’s Most Beautiful Passports

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Your passport is the one thing you always have with you when you travel around the world, so it might as well be beautiful. These 15 countries have transformed their passports into works of art.

1. NORWAY

Norway’s new passport shows off the Aurora.

Norway’s passport, which was redesigned in 2014, is a celebration of Scandi minimalism. The inside pages depict Norway’s natural landscapes using clean lines and shades of teal, grey, and orange. The illustration are gorgeous enough in normal light, but they really come alive when you shine a UV light on them: The colors turn dark, and the Northern Lights appear as dazzling ribbons across the night sky.

2. FINLAND

No more twiddling your thumbs in the customs line! Finland’s passport, redesigned in 2012, doubles as a flipbook. When you thumb through the document, an illustration of a moose at the bottom right hand corner appears to saunter across the page. 

3. AUSTRALIA

Kangaroos, emus, platypuses: the Australian passport has them all. The illustrations inside pay tribute to the country’s distinctive biology. And beneath the pretty pictures, a host of hidden security features—including an image of a kangaroo that appears to float above the page when tilted—make Australia’s passports extremely difficult to forge.

4. CANADA

Canada’s new passport looks fairly ordinary in the light of day. But when you shine a blacklight on the inside pages, they transform into glowing illustrations of iconic Canadian scenes and symbols, from Niagara Falls to Technicolor maple leaves. 

5. CHINA

Like Canada’s passport, China’s passport has an ultraviolet secret. Pass a UV light over the inner pages, and illustrations of landmarks like the Great Wall of China burst into colorful life.

6. NEW ZEALAND

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As a remote nation surrounded by water, New Zealand has always been a nation of travelers—from the early Polynesian explorers who first sailed to the island, to modern-day Kiwis who travel thousands of miles beyond their borders. Each page of New Zealand’s passport—one of the world's most powerful—tells the story of the many journeys that New Zealanders have taken throughout history.

7. HUNGARY

Like many of the world’s most beautiful passports, Hungary’s passport comes alive under UV light. A blacklight reveals part of the musical score of the second Hungarian national anthem, the Szózat.

8. INDONESIA

The 48 pages of Indonesia’s passport feature brightly colored drawings of the island nation’s impressive flora and fauna, including a turtle, a bird of paradise, and a Rafflesia, one of the world’s largest flowers. 

9. IRELAND

The Irish passport, redesigned in 2013, is a lovely tribute to the music, architecture, and natural beauty of the Emerald Isle. The illustrations inside depict landmarks like the Cliffs of Moher and Dublin’s iconic River Liffey, woven through with Celtic designs.

10. SWEDEN

The Scandinavians seem to know something the rest of us don’t when it comes to stylish passport design. Sweden’s passport, redesigned in 2012, features unusual birds-eye-view illustrations of famous Swedish landmarks and neighborhoods. And yet again, the whimsical drawings take on a whole new life when you slip them under UV light.

11. UNITED KINGDOM

The UK redesigns its passport every five years for security reasons. The most recent design, unveiled in November 2015, celebrates the past 500 years of creativity in Britain. The inside pages feature illustrations of British innovators, including the modern artist Anish Kapoor and the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. Also, a watermark of William Shakespeare graces every page. 

12. UNITED STATES

America’s passport is full of colorful illustrations of classic American landscapes, paired with inspirational quotes from U.S. leaders. But the current look may be on its way out; the U.S. passport is getting a makeover, and will debut later this year, or near the start of 2018.

13. PHILIPPINES

The new Philippine passport, which was released in 2016, features colorful illustrations of the country's tourist destinations, natural landmarks, and animals. The most dramatic rendering shows the wings of endangered cockatoos framing the face of the national bird, the Philippine eagle.

14. MEXICO

Each page of Mexico’s colorful passport features a different coat of arms to represent Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District. 

15. SWITZERLAND

Switzerland’s passport (issued in 2010) definitely makes a statement. Instead of the standard dark cover stamped with a country crest, the Swiss went bold, minimal, and modern, with an unusual off-center alignment for the text. The geometric patterns on the inner pages are just as striking.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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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