Original image

16 Attractions Open Christmas Day

Original image

Christmas is often a day spent with family, but it's easy to get a bit antsy if you're forced to spend the entire day at home. Unfortunately, there's not much to do on Christmas when the majority of businesses are closed. If you're sick of going out for Chinese food or heading to the movies, here are a few other options for the restless on Christmas.

1. John Deere World Headquarters

Should you find yourself in Moline, Illinois, and desperate to settle a bet on antique farm equipment on Christmas, hit up the display floor of the John Deere World Headquarters. It's open until 5 p.m., and you can have a look at antiques as well as the company's latest offerings.

2. The Bunny Museum

The self-described "hoppiest place in the world" is open by appointment on Christmas.

Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski host the rabbit-themed museum in their home, and it's full of their real rabbit pets in addition to tons of rabbit-themed paraphernalia and collectibles. If you decide to hop on over, note their gift-receiving policy: "Candace & Steve do accept and appreciate bunny gifts. (And flowers, vegetables, postage stamps!) PLEASE DO NOT BRING THEM A REAL BUNNY FOR A GIFT!"

3. San Francisco Botanical Gardens
If you're sick of seeing nothing but poinsettias and Christmas trees, head over to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. The 55-acre sanctuary boasts over 7500 varieties of plants.

4. Greater Vancouver Zoo
Christmas is great and all, but it's sorely lacking in lions and hippos. Revelers who spend the holiday in Vancouver can head to the zoo to get their fixes, though. Be sure to check out the muskox!

5. Will Rogers Memorial Museum

If you're in Claremore, Oklahoma, this Christmas and want to remember the sharp wit of humorist, cowboy, and entertainer Will Rogers, head to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. It's open 365 days a year and features nine galleries of fine art depicting Rogers in addition to a collection of Rogers' saddles.

6. Disney Parks
Disney's parks are open on Christmas Day, so if your little ones have had enough of Santa and are just clamoring to go to Epcot, they can get their fill of international culture.

7. Branson, Missouri

We don't want to get anyone too excited, but according to the entertainment boomtown's website, "the majority of Branson's major attractions will be open during the Christmas season." We know what you're thinking, and yes, that includes the Hollywood Wax Museum. Doesn't look like Yakov Smirnoff is performing that day, though.

8. Mount Vernon Estate
George Washington didn't get his face on the dollar bill by taking days off. The people who run his estate seem to feel the same way. Oh, and if you're more of a Nicolas Cage fan than a Washington devotee, the estate offers "an hour-long walking tour that includes behind-the-scenes information about areas where National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets filming took place."

9. Yellowstone
Like many of the National Park Service's attractions, Yellowstone is open on Christmas for those who prefer geysers to stockings. If Yellowstone is out of your way, what better way to celebrate Christmas than by seeing Niagara Falls?

10. Prince Phillip Island

Do you like penguins but can't stand geographically confused Christmas decorators who stick the adorable birds in their North Pole scenes? Then boy, does Australia have an attraction for you! The Phillip Island Nature Park is not only open on Christmas, it has a penguin parade every night at sunset.

11. The Empire State Building
What better place to keep your eyes peeled for Santa than from the top of the Empire State Building? The last elevators go up to the observation deck at 1:15 a.m.

12. Theater of the Sea
If your holiday season just won't be complete without a Christmas swim with a dolphin, head to the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Dolphins not your marine life of choice? They also offer swims with rays and sea lions.

13. Hemingway's Home
As long as you're in the Keys, you might as well make a Christmas journey to Hemingway's house in Key West. If hard-drinking writers and six-toed cats can't get you into the Christmas spirit, nothing will.

14. The Jewish Museum
As one might expect, New York City's Jewish Museum is open on Christmas, and it looks like it's got some pretty interesting exhibits up at the moment. Check out Alias Man Ray, a look at the acclaimed mid-century avant-garde artist's career.

15. Allegheny Arms and Armor Museum

This museum is the perfect destination if someone on your list only asked for one thing this Christmas: to stand up close to a Marines LVTP-7 Armored Amphibious Assault Vehicle. Head to Smethport, Pennsylvania, to check out all of the museum's tanks, armored crafts, and heavy cannons.

16. The Bible Museum
Need a quick way to refocus on the spiritual aspects of Christmas? Hit up the Bible Museum in Goodyear, Arizona. It's open on Christmas and houses some of the world's rarest Bibles and religious books, including Latin Bibles that date back to the 15th century. They'll even let you turn the pages and read the books yourself.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image