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Lamps with Personality

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We all need light in the darkness, but the variety of lamps available can boggle the mind. Anything can be made into a lamp, if you can attach a battery or run an electrical cord through it. The lamps you display in your home say something about your personality, so choose carefully. Here are some I've taken a shine to.

The Abduction Lamp was designed by Lasse Klein and is not yet available for sale. Otherwise, I'd have one ordered already! The cow or a human will be an add-on accessory.

Kelly Butler at Tramp Lamps (a "dangling bordello of unmentionables") makes lighting out of vintage lingerie and corsets. What looks like either a work of art or a public display of laundry during the day will fill a room with a sultry glow at night.

More illumination, after the jump.

Gooseneck lamps can be made to resembled anything flexible or somewhat curved. This Spinal-column Lamp has become somewhat of a hit in chiropractors' offices. Flexible? Of course!


I bought this Robot Desk Lamp by Holmes for my brother for Christmas. It shines a light from its face, and holds your pens and other tools in its adjustable arms. It was once in stores all over, but doesn't seem to be avilable anywhere now.

The Wet Lamp has a light bulb submerged in water! A silver rod acts as a dimmer switch when it is adjusted into the water. This might scare you (it does me), but the site says it is safe. Still, I can imagine a cat or a child knocking this off the furniture and watching it shatter while plugged in.

A lightbulb doesn't have to have a shade when it's this clever. The Lamp Lamp is a 30 watt lightbulb that can be used in any standard socket, guaranteed to draw stares and smiles.

Sleekness and usability come together in the Mini-Z LED Desk Lamp. It has six adjustable joints, 40 energy-efficient LEDs, and takes up almost no room. Too bad it's not available right now.

Make your own White Trash Lava Lamp from a glass jug and an old saucepan. The point to this would be mainly to prove you could do it, but the author cautions that it could be dangerous. I'd take his word for it.

Instructables will show you how to make this lampshade out of trash. Trash meaning printed paper and coffee grounds.

You might have a stack of old CDs, or possibly all those discs AOL is constantly sending out. Recycle them into a lamp! The plastic used to make a disc thick enough to handle is horizontally transparent and a flourescent tube gives a soft glow. Jim Watters has instructions for making your own, using either an AC cord or batteries.

TheANIMEX is a new lighting system inspired by the bioluminescence of deep-sea animals, a process combining two chemicals to produce light without heat. TheANIMEX features an LED layer and a reflective layer, which combine to produce 3D effects in space. It can be designed to cover a variety of surfaces, such as buildings, walls, and even furniture!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]