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Weird Hotels 'round the World

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When it comes to accommodations, there's good weird and there's bad weird. I've stayed in a few of the latter kind -- like an uber-budget flophouse in Paris where the door wouldn't close all the way and stray cats would sneak into our room while we were sleeping. The hotels below, on the other hand, are trying to make a statement, being weird on purpose in a creative way, and generally look like comfortable places to stay. (Except maybe the oil rig escape pod.) Check 'em out.

Jules' Underwater Hotel

If you're really into diving (and you don't work on a submarine), this hotel-slash-research lab may be the only opportunity you'll ever have to stay underwater for days at a time without surfacing. Located 21 feet under the waters off Key Largo, Florida, the only way in is via scuba, and it's got two bedrooms, a common room, bathrooms and a galley -- so it's really more like an underwater time-share apartment than a hotel. Rooms are around $500/night. Here's one of them:

And this is the hotel entrance:
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The Poseidon, 5-Star Underwater Hotel

If the Jules seems too downmarket and you want to stay in the Four Seasons of underwater hotels, the soon-to-be-completed Poseidon in the Bahamas will be more your speed. The entrance to this hotel is via tunnel (so you don't have to get wet), and the hotel is equipped with lights and fish-feeders, so there's always a show out your window. If you've got $1500/night to drop on it, make a reservation!

There's another hotel named the Poseidon planned -- this one in Fiji -- and they've created this virtual tour of the facility.

Oil rig escape pod

Capsule_dog

On the other end of the ocean-themed comfort spectrum, there are the Netherlands' Capsule Hotels, which are actually 1970s-era oil rig escape pods (to be lowered into the water in case of evacuation). More pictures are here -- and actually, it doesn't look that uncomfortable inside.

A section of used drainpipe

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It's actually called DAS PARKHOTEL, but I call 'em like they are. Located in a park alongside the banks of the Danube, these old pipes are outfitted with an unexpectedly comfortable interior - full headroom, double bed, storage, light, power, woolly blanket and light cotton sleeping bag. Bathroom facilities are available in the public bathrooms in the park. If this sounds a lot like camping out, it is -- hence the hotels "pay what you wish" policy. Just leave a few Euros behind when you go. [link]

An old wine cask

DeVrouwe_exterior

These four huge casks are actually the Hotel de Vrouwe Van Stavoren in the Netherlands, and at one time they each held approximately 20,000 bottles worth of wine each. Tiny, airtight rooms which are probably still outgassing alcohol vapor -- is this a good idea? But it certainly looks cool.
DeVrouwe_interior

Pictures by Paul Rekker.

A 747 in the Costa Rican jungle

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This plane was once operated by South African Airways and Avianca Airlines -- now it sits in the Costa Rican jungle, interior repaneled in rich wood, as a two-bedroom hotel suite. (It appears to be owned by a "normal" hotel, located on a beachside bluff nearby.) Pictures by Vincent Costello.

(Via Budgettravel.)

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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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