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10 Cool College Landmarks

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Editor's Note: The deadline for our $50,000 Tuition Giveaway is January 31. Rather than nag you every day with a post that starts and ends with "TIME IS RUNNING OUT," we've decided to keep the scholarship top of mind by re-running some of our favorite college-centric stories and quizzes.

Each college needs something to make it stand out, whether it's a famous grad, a spook legend, or an awesome architectural wonder. After searching far and wide for cool college buildings, I'm beginning to wonder if I made the right college decision after all.

1. Stata Center

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MIT's Computer, Information, and Intelligence Sciences Center contains research facilities, classrooms, an auditorium, fitness facilities, a childcare center, and even "social areas" along an "interior student street." Designed by Frank Gehry and highly praised for its unique design, the building has not been without problems. Evidently, MIT has paid $1.5 million to fix problems that include cracks, drainage backups, and mold; the school is now suing Gehry for neglect, including the construction company as well.

2. Nott Memorial

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The centerpiece of Union College, in upstate New York, is the 16-sided memorial to the school's 1804-1866 president, Eliphalet Nott, whose tenure is the longest of any American college president. Over 130 years old, the building is a National Historic Landmark and houses the Mandeville Gallery for art, science, and history exhibitions.

3. Sun Yat-Sen Hall

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At St. John's University in Queens, NY, the Institute of Asian Studies is housed in Sun Yat-Sen Hall. Concerns arose at the school in fall 2006, when rumors surfaced that the treasured building would be demolished and replaced with new offices and a cafeteria. Thankfully, the pagoda was merely up for a renovation. The Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery is also located in the building; display items in the gallery are about 50 percent Chinese, 50 percent Japanese, and include a samurai sword.

4. Grey Towers Castle

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Arcadia University's trademark castle is 110 years old and is home to the Mirror Room (the ballroom of years past), a Grand Hall (with a carved wood staircase), student residences, and, of course, gargoyles. The castle, which was designed by Horace Trumbauer, was inspired by Alnick Castle in England. If you're ever in the Philadelphia area in October, you can stop in for the school's annual Haunted Castle event.

5. Student Center

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Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) only acquired its student center four years ago. The building, now almost 100-years-old, was originally the Congregation B'nai B'rith Synagogue and has also housed St. Andrew's Independent Episcopal Church. Featuring balconies, carved wooden pillars, Moorish-style domes, and stained glass, the student center now houses a café, a SCAD-designed bench, workstations, and Napping Pods.

6. Cadet Chapel

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The United States Air Force Academy's 150-feet chapel actually houses three chapels—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—as well as two worship rooms for people of any faith. Walter Netsch, Jr.'s creation is made of aluminum, glass, and steel with 17 spires, though apparently there is no significance to this number.

7. Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium

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The auditorium at Arizona State University was one of Frank Lloyd Wright's last works. Built in 1964, the auditorium was designed by Wright to be "as acoustically perfect as possible." Apparently, Wright played a joke on the school (supposedly for turning down his original idea): from overhead, Gammage looks like a toilet. (Check it out on Google Maps if you don't believe me.)

8. Library/ETC

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At Evergreen Valley College, a community college in California, the combined library and educational technology center contains 21st-century resources in an environment that provides an "indoor/outdoor feel." The building, which has no specific back, contains "branches" that support the elevated ceiling in the reading room. The many windows let in ample natural light for a comfortable reading atmosphere. Designed by Steinberg Architects, the building received an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects' chapter in Santa Clara Valley.

9. Memorial Church

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The chapel at Stanford is decorated with mosaics with tiles in over 20,000 shades of color. Known as "MemChu," the chapel has been the wedding site for 7,500 couples in the last 105 years. The chapel contains four organs and the university organist has been known to treat early morning visitors to impromptu concerts.

10. School of Drama

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In Melbourne, Australia, Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama is a whimsical building that houses class, lecture, and performance spaces. A performance was held inside before the building was even completed! Designed by the architectural firm CS+T, the school "features random balconies with perforated metal balustrades, curved and skewed walls in an array of contrasting colours and a series of non-rectilinear windows." The drawbacks to a building this cool are the potential safety and access problems; fortunately, these were dealt with "very successfully."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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