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14 Pop Culture References in World of Warcraft

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OK, between Guitar Hero and this, I'm totally outing myself as a geek. But I don't care. Here it is: I play World of Warcraft. (It's not a problem; I can quit any time I want.) Ever since I started playing, I've started noticing little references to WoW everywhere. South Park and The Simpsons have both had episodes featuring the game (or in the case of The Simpsons, a suspiciously similar game).

And the more I advance in the game, the more pop culture references I notice in the game itself. I just love sly little mentions that not everyone would catch. I started doing a little research and there are way, way too many to mention, but I'm going to list a few of my favorites. I haven't actually discovered all of these myself, so it gives me something to watch out for while I'm playing. Besides murlocs and ghouls, I mean.

finkle.jpg1. The inscription on a couple of weapons (the Finkle's Lava Dredger and Finkle's Skinner) says, "Property of Finkle Einhorn, Grandmaster Adventurer." Ace Ventura fans will recognize this from the moment near the end of the movie when Ace figures out that Lois Einhorn is, in fact, ex-Miami Dolphins footballer Ray Finkle. "Einhorn is Finkle! Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man!"

2. My friend Josh says he has never seen this one mentioned on any other Easter egg site, so this may very well be an exclusive (thanks, Josh). This one's also in the town of Stormwind - there's a traveling salesman who goes by the name Antonio Pirelli. In both the theater and recent movie versions of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which I adored), there's a traveling hair tonic salesman named Adolfo Pirelli. Coincidence?? Not in my book.

bernard-gump.jpg3. This one's a little trickier. In one of the large cities in the game, Stormwind, there's a flower shop owner named Bernard Gump. Florist Gump. Get it?

4. If you head to a town called Lakeshire and train with the fisherman there, you might be getting more of a lesson than you bargained for: the trainer's name is Matthew Hooper. Richard Dreyfuss played shark expert Matt Hooper in Jaws.

5. More naming fun. In the Eastern Plaguelands, there's a priest named Father Inigo Montoy, which is just one letter away from Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.")

6. The creators must be fans of The Princess Bride, because the stable master in the town of Southshore is named Wesley. That's not quite the same as the stable boy Westley in The Princess Bride, but it's close enough that it had to be intentional. Right?

7. Another movie that gets multiple references is Silence of the Lambs. One quest requires players to get an ogre tannin out of a basket. (No, I don't know what a "˜tannin' is.) The second the tannin is removed, an ogre runs after the player yelling, "It puts the tannin in the basket or else it gets the club again!" This is a combination of Buffalo Bill's "It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again," and "It places the lotion in the basket."

8. There's a blacksmith in the town of Darkshire who sometimes mumbles about hearing the lambs scream. Her name just happens to be Clarise.

9. Visit the city of Orgrimmar and you'll have the chance to check out a shop called "Boomstick Imports". Bruce Campbell would be proud.

10. My favorite category of movies "“ the horror genre "“ does not go unnoticed in the World of Warcraft (which is only appropriate since it's crawling with the undead, ghouls, zombies and banshees). The innkeeper in Undercity is named Innkeeper Norman and the innkeeper of Sepulcher is named Innkeeper Bates"¦ see, Norman Bates, our favorite Psychopath hotel manager.

11. The trick in the bullet above "“ giving two people of the same profession names that relate to one another "“ is a favorite trick of the WoW game designers. Next time you visit Undercity, take notice of the auctioneer there. His name is Yarly. Not something you'd think much of, right? But if you travel to Stranglethorn Vale and check out the auctioneer there, you'll see that his name is O'Reely. O'Reely and Yarly is a reference to the "O RLY? YA RLY!" owls of Internet fame.

12. There's a kitty at the start of the Naxxramas instance whose name is Mr. Bigglesworth"¦ AKA Dr. Evil's cat in the Austin Powers movies.

13. It isn't just movies that are referenced. The punk movement also gets a little love from the good people of Blizzard Entertainment. In the Alterac Mountains, there's a non-playable character named Nancy Vishas. This is likely a nod to Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, whom he stabbed to death in 1978.

homestar.jpg14. Finally, not one, but two Homestar Runner references. First, a non-playable character in the Searing Gorge named Master Smith Burninate"¦. as in the Strongbad drawing Trogdor the Burninator. I wonder if there's a poorly-drawn dragon lurking somewhere that I haven't found yet. The second reference is a bad guy named Jorb. This may or may not be a reference to the Homestar short "A Jorb Well done" where Coach Z is unable to pronounce the word "˜job' correctly.

Those are a few of my favorites. So tell me, Warcraft people, what have you come across that made you giggle to yourself?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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