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Morbid Home Decor

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Over a year ago, I posted Killer Home Decor and found out how many of you have a subversive, or even a morbid sense of humor in furnishing your homes. This is the long overdue continuation of that post, with more ways for you to impress visitors to your home. These products will give them either smiles on their faces or chills down their backs!

Roadkill Carpet

Ew, what's that on your rug? Studio OOOMS has a handmade 100% wool carpet that looks beautiful, except for that 100% wool flattened bloody fox!

Mr. Suicide Bath Plug

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The Mr. Suicide bath plug was designed by Massimo Giacon for Alessi. The little guy attached to a chain and a "weight" (the plug itself) comes in three colors. As long as the stopper is in the drain, he'll be held under the bath water.

Dead Fred Penholder

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Dead Fred is a penholder. Not only is the sight of an ink pen (or pencil) stuck through Fred's heart a real conversation starter, it also keeps your writing instrument where you can find it.

Hanged Man Lamp

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Shine a little light in the darkness with the Hanged Man Lamp by enPieza. Made of treated iron, this little guy will impress your guests, or else scare them off. But you can assure them that you bought it only because it reminded you of your favorite word game.

Nuclear Waste Containers

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Nothing says "hands off" like a nuclear symbol. These Atomic Food Containers come in a set of three sizes with lids and ominous warnings. Great for leftovers or for taking your lunch to work.

Coffin Table

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The Memento Coffee Table Casket is designed to be both a coffee table and a coffin!

Made from an intentional choice of materials, this "pine box" puts design in context of the user at different stages of life, and death. In life, Memento serves the user as a functional piece of furniture that stores the material possessions we choose to collect. When the inevitable occurs, this coffee table takes on a second life as a non-toxic burial vessel.

Coffin Couch

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Coffin Couches are made from 18 gauge steel coffins collected from Southern California funeral homes. They are embossed with the universal biohazard symbol due to contact with a deceased body. They come in all manner of colors and can be customized to your taste.

Knife Hooks

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It appears as if someone has thrown a knife from a distance and it lodged in your wall. But these knifes are screw-in hooks you can hang a coat or hat on!

Crime Scene Scarf

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Not necessarily a home decor item, but I couldn't resist including the crime scene scarf called Fuzz. Knitted from acrylic and spandex; designed by Michelle Kempner. If you want to incorporate crime scene tape into your home decor, you might try the toilet paper version.
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See quite a few additional deliciously morbid touches for your home in the post Killer Home Decor.

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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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