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Treehouses for All Occasions

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There's something about a treehouse that appeals to all of us. Maybe it's the view, or getting close to nature, or reliving childhood memories. There are many ways to enjoy treehouses, no matter what age you are.

A Treehouse Protest

Beginning in 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill spent two years in a treehouse, 180 feet up in a tree named Luna to protest old-growth logging. Her treehouse was only a 6x8 foot tent, but she had plenty of visitors and conducted interviews via cellphone. Luna was estimated to be somewhere between 600 and 1,000 years old! Hill's protest drew the support of Earth First! and other environmental organizations. Hill finally came down from the tree on December 18, 1999 when Pacific Lumber Company agreed to spare the tree and a three-acre buffer area. In 2001, the tree was damaged by someone with a chain saw who cut a 32-inch deep gash around the trunk. Guy wires were added for support, and the tree survives today.

The Treehouse as Art

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The Steampunk Tree House is a 30-foot-tall interactive work of art first exhibited at Burning Man. It is made of recycled wood and metal, and outfitted with steam pipes, which can exude puffs of steam when needed. There are solar panels included, which power LED lights. The Steampunk Tree House will appear at the Coachella 2008 music festival next weekend and the Stagecoach music festival in May, both in Indio, California.

Hotels

Sanya Nanshan
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You can find treehouse hotels all over the world. Sanya Nanshan Treehouse Resort and Beach Club offers four treehouses as vacation rentals near the beach near Nanshan Mountain in south China.

The Tree Houses Hotel
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The Tree Houses Hotel is a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica, in the rain forest near Arenal Volcano.

Cedar Creek Treehouse
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Cedar Creek Treehouse at Mt. Ranier in Washington is a cabin 50 feet high in a giant cedar tree. Climb a spiral staircase around a nearby fir tree and cross a swinging bridge and you can see the view from an observatory 100 feet in the air!

Permanent Homes

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If you want to live in a treehouse all the time, there are ways to do it. Finca Bellavista Rainforest Village is a permanent community of treehouses at the base of a rain forest mountain in Costa Rica. The goal of the community is to preserve rain forest acreage and promote sustainable living arrangements.

Grownup Retreats

Treehouse Teahouse
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Japanese professor of architecture Terunobu Fujimori built his boyhood dream in his father's garden in 2004. It's a teahouse on stilts! They call it the "Too High Teahouse".

Free Spirit Spheres
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You don't have to build your own treehouse. There are several companies who will do it for you. Free Spirit Spheres will deliver a ready-made pod to your forest and install it safely.

For Kids

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Kevin McKinney built a treehouse for his two daughters on top of an 8 foot wide Giant Redwood stump. The house has a cantilevered porch, observation deck, sink, closet, and interior stalactites!

Ground Level Tree Bar

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A Baobab tree in Limpopo, South Africa is so big that it's been made into a bar! The tree has a 155-foot circumference and is hollow. The bar can seat 15 people comfortably, and once held 54 people (although not comfortably). Baobabs begin to hollow out at about a thousand years of age; this tree is estimated to be 6,000 years old. When owners Doug and Heather van Heerden set up the pub in the late eighties, they found artifacts indicating that Bushmen and Dutch pioneers had been inside, and had possibly lived in the tree.

Tree Tent

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The Treepee is a tent that hangs from a tree! You can use it as a trampoline that you can't fall out of (unless you leave the door open), or a swing. Tether the corners to the ground for more stability. If you hang it high, use the pulley that comes with it to haul up provisions. The floor is much softer than the ground, for either sleeping or sitting.

This is just an overview of different kinds of treehouses. You can see quite a few more in the articles Incredible Treehouses and Universally Accessible Treehouses.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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