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11 Housewarming Gifts for the Dedicated Gamer

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Since we brought you The Retro Fun and Games House, I've found a lot more products that will make serious gamers feel right at home in their own homes. Some are for sale; others are handcrafted, so you may have to plan ahead for a special occasion.

1. Space Invaders Bath Towels

These Space Invaders bath towels come in two colors and three designs to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the game (which was last year). Don't worry about whether it will match your bathroom's decor; the colors are black and white. The same outlet also has a Space Invaders Pillow.

2. Gamer Soap

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DigitalSoaps makes bars of soap in the shape of game controllers! Xbox, NES, and PlayStation contoller-shaped soaps are available, as well as soaps shaped like cell phones, calculators, and Space Invaders. They even have Mountain Dew shampoo for the diehard geek.

3. Iceblox

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Iceblox is an ice cube tray that gives you ice in the shape of game pieces we all know and love. You can amplify the effect of serving drinks by using Koolade to make your ice in bright colors. Designed by Martin Zampach. If you prefer, another ice tray called Ice Invaders gives you the shape of yet more familiar game icons.

4. PacMan Oven Mitt

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Every kitchen needs oven mitts and pot holders. Only a special kitchen has one shaped like Pac-Man!

5. Mario Table

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This Mario tabletop is a one-of-a-kind, so you can't go buy one, but you could make your own. Aaron used ceramic tiles to cover a stained table with an 8-bit Mario design.

6. Tic Tac Toast

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No need to stop playing games just because you're eating breakfast! Just $3.99 will get you a stamp that puts a tic-tac-toe grid on your toast. It can also be used on your lunch sandwich.

7. Rubik's Cube Salt and Pepper Mills

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These Rubik's cube salt and pepper mills are the exact size of a playable Rubik's cube, except that only one row rotates, and that row will grind salt or pepper. One cube of the set comes with a white turning row, the other with a red turning row. If that's too hard to keep straight, remember the pepper mill is the one that pepper comes out of. Add a real Rubik's cube to your table setting to further confuse your guests.

8. Rubik's Cube Clock

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Like the salt and pepper mills, you can only turn the top row on this Rubik's cube clock. When you do, the display shifts from time to date to alarm, and even temperature! Also like the salt and pepper mills, it is the same size as a standard Rubik's cube.

9. Red Ring of Death Coasters

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With Red Ring of Death coasters, your gamer friends familiar with the Xbox 360 warning will laugh, while your other guests will think they are just nice coasters. I believe these were handmade, though I can see how a manufacturer could be inspired.

10. Mario Quilt

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This Mario quilt was handcrafted by Brian's wife out of two-inch squares (or pixels, if you will) in 16 colors. See more pictures here. See more gamer quilts in a previous post.

11. Crocheted Nintendo Blanket

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Craftster member NerdyCrochetGal made this awesome Nintendo blanket out of crocheted squares featuring various Nintendo game icons. Even the border between the pictures is made of Tetris blocks!

See also: 8 Awesome Video Game Quilts and The Retro Fun and Games House.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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