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LandLeader Properties

The Town of Tiller, Oregon Is on the Market for $3.5 Million

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LandLeader Properties

In the market for a new home, willing to spend around $4 million, and want some serious bang for your buck? The entire town of Tiller, Oregon, can be yours, Reuters reports.

Tiller is an unincorporated, 250-acre community in Douglas County, in western Oregon—about 225 miles south of Portland. It borders the banks of the South Umpqua River, in the Umpqua National Forest, and aside from the family selling Tiller, only two people—a teacher and a pastor—actually live there. Around 250 residents live in the surrounding region, and on Sundays, 50 or so people might show up for a service at Tiller’s community church.

Whoever buys Tiller will score industrial and commercial lots, a now-defunct gas station/general store with an apartment, and six houses (not including the homes of the pastor and teacher), all for $3.5 million. If the buyer wants to spend an extra $350,000, he or she will also get the town’s schoolhouse.

Tiller is a nature lover’s paradise—but sadly, it no longer attracts any industry. The town once had a mill, but it closed after the region’s timber harvesting declined. Families who relied on logging were forced to leave; the family that currently owns Tiller acquired it lot by lot, as their neighbors left.

Still, Tiller's future could be a bright one. "The most important thing is the arrangement of the properties as a whole, with 28 different tax lots, a school—it makes it very marketable," Garrett Zoller—who owns Land and Wildlife, the real estate firm selling Tiller—told the Associated Press. "It's an opportunity to do the development, and do it with a lot more elasticity and less bureaucracy." Zoller says that multiple potential buyers have contacted him: Chinese investors, hemp growers (hey, it is Oregon), and people wanting to open up a senior center, among others.

This isn’t the first time that Tiller has been on the market: Its owners first tried to sell the town back in 2015, but the deal didn't include the schoolhouse.

Check out some pictures of Tiller below:

All photos courtesy of LandLeader Properties.

[h/t Reuters]

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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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May 23, 2017
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