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Top 11 Live Web Cams

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Live Web cams have changed in the last couple years. They're no longer crappy still images updated once or twice a minute, or moving images that look like they're being shot through beer goggles.

Now you get some pretty clear footage of some pretty amazing locations, and some even let YOU control the camera (at least until your time runs out, or someone else in the queue takes over).

We combed the Web looking for the Top 11 (yes, ours go to 11!) so you wouldn't have to. The following were plucked out of hundreds, based on quality of cam, inter-activeness, or just plain-ol' fascinating location.

As always, be sure to include a link to your favorites (if we left one off the list) in the comments below.

11. Panda Cam

Zoo Atlanta's famous Pandas Lun Lun, Yang Yang, Mei Lan and Xi Lan. This cam is live during the weekdays only, 10-5 ET.

(Click images to see live cams)

10. University of Pittsburgh

Perched high atop the Cathedral of Learning, the second tallest education building in the world (535 feet), this cam shows off not only the Pitt campus, but lots of historic Pittsburgh, as well.

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9. Statue of Liberty

Okay, so she doesn't move around much on her perch there. But now that the scaffolding is down, it's nice to check in from time to time and remember our idealistic origins.

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8. Zurich live

Nice view from the Marriott Hotel across the rivers Sihl and Limmat, the Main Railway Station, the Swiss National Museum and downtown Zürich.

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7. Niagara Falls

Sadly, this is as close to the famous falls as this blogger has ever gotten. Maybe that's why I like this cam so much.

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6. Lucky Dog Cams

Check out the awesome quality of these puppies. You've got seven crystal clear camera views to see whats happening at the Lucky Dog Resort & Training School. Hours of fun for any dog owner.

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5. The Kotel in Jerusalem

In Hebrew, the Western Wall is called the Kotel Ma'aravi, literally "the wall west."

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4. Greenwich Village

Great controls on this one let you pick from many different live cams. For those who've never visited Christopher Street, or have only seen it in films, this is a great time killer.
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3. Tom and Liz's Live Garden Cams

Three cams (with sound!) in Prairie Village, Kansas: One on a Koi pond, the second, on bird-feeders. Another is a live streaming Flash feed.

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2. Moon Cam

I know I said cams no longer provided static shots updated every minute, but some still do, and some are still worth checking in with every so often. This one you just have to see; it's from the KErmIt Satellite Mission, in high orbit over the moon

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1. Freedom Tower, Ground Zero

Watch the construction of the Freedom Tower from three different views plus a cool time-lapse function that lets you see it all from the beginning forward. I believe some of these images will be used in a composite for a feature-length film after construction is complete.
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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
entertainment
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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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