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10 Alternative Electronic Gifts (for those who can't find a Wii)

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Nintendo knew three months ago there would be a Christmas shortage of the Wii game system. Of course they were right, since they are the ones who place orders from the factory. What to do? Maybe this list will help, full of electronic gadgets and toys that may distract the giftee from the fact that he won't find his heart's desire under the tree this Christmas. Or at least baffle him for a while.

1. Radio Control Bugs

The Discovery Channel Store is offering a radio-controlled insect with three interchangable exoskeletons- a Rhinoceros Beetle, Hissing Cockroach and Hercules Beetle. Make your bug move in forward and reverse with a remote control shaped like a stick.

2. USB Doomsday Device Hub

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Activate your Doomsday Device with three switches; one requires a key. The red button under a plastic shield controls the doom (with appropriate sound effects). According to the product description, no one knows what really happens when it goes off, but this is a USB hub that no one will mess with!

More wacky gadgets and cool toys, after the jump.

3. WiFi Detector Shirt

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The WiFi detector shirt has glowing bars that show you the WiFi signl strength of your location without the hassle of opening your laptop for a try. This will be as handy to wear traveling as the Traveler's Phrasebook T-Shirt. No word yet on how airport security will react.

4. Infrared Micro Tanks

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Imagine remote-contol miniature Lazer Tag. These little tanks fire infrared beams at each other. When a sensor is "hit", the tank will spin crazily in a circle. After five hits, the tank is disabled. A perfect gift for competitive brothers or friends.

5. Floating Globe

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It's the Amazing Anti-gravity Levitating Globe! It's powered by magnets, and you can make it rotate in either direction or stand still. You can also get other objects to levitate.

6. The Flying Alarm Clock

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This will seem so cool until the time comes to actually use it. The Flying Alarm Clock features rotors that shoot into the air (up to nine feet!) when the alarm goes off. The alarm cannot be stopped until the rotors are found and replacced on the clock. Cool, but oh-so-useful for those who tend to hit the snooze button.

7. Tooth Tunes

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Tooth Tunes, the musical toothbrush plays a two-minute music clip that is carried through the jawbone to the inner ear, encouraging kids to brush for the length of the song (about two minutes). Selections unfortunately do not include Vivldi, but music from the Cheetah Girls, High School Musical, and the like, but there is only song per toothbrush. The upside of that is that kids will realize immediately if they are using their sibling's brush. Eww!

8. Electric Plane Launcher Kit

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The Electric Plane Launcher is an accessory every paper-airplane-maker should have, and you can build your own with this kit. You'll be able to launch paper airplanes at up to 50 kph! It comes with a slew of parts, batteries not included.

9. Toilet Tunes

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Toilet Tunes is your bathroom privacy insurance. Attach the sensor to the toilet lid, and put the speaker anywhere you want inthe nathroom. Every time you lift the lid, music plays to cover any embarrassing sounds. Order now and get a spa pillow free!

10. Remote-Control Hand

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Like Thing on The Addams Family, this disembodied hand can crawl across the floor on its fingers. Can be a conversation starter, or possibly a way to rid your home of unwanted visitors.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

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]

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