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From Nudity to NKOTB: 10 Interesting Theme Cruises

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Theme cruises, by their very nature, appeal to a specific subset of the population. To everyone else, they may seem like a colossal waste of money and time. What began as a means for cruise lines to attract a few extra customers during the non-peak cruising season has grown into a booming business. Of all the theme cruises currently offered, here are 10 that caught our eye.

1. Thunder in the Tropics

Thunder Roads Magazine, in conjunction with Entertainment and Travel Alternatives, is sponsoring a Caribbean cruise for bikers this winter. The private beach party in St. Maarten, which will feature mud wrestling contests and a scavenger hunt for buried treasure, figures to be one of the highlights of the trip. From the event’s website: “This IS NOT your typical bike rally cruise.” Would your typical bike rally cruise include Thunder Bingo, with huge cash prizes, or a surfing contest on the ship’s FlowRider? We’re not sure. The cruise itinerary includes a number of other contests, as bikers will compete for the title of best beard, belly-flop, chest, and tattoo.

2. Titanic Memorial

History buffs may appreciate this cruise from April 8-19, 2012, which will retrace the itinerary of the Titanic, 100 years after the world’s largest passenger ship sank during its maiden voyage.

Guests will cruise on the Balmoral, which is operated by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, whose parent company built the Titanic.

With 1,309 passengers aboard, the same number as were on the Titanic, the Balmoral will depart Southampton, stop in Cobh, and then head for the spot where the Titanic sank. A memorial ceremony will be held between the time Captain Edward J. Smith’s vessel hit the iceberg on the night of April 14 and the time the ship went under. The cruise will continue to Halifax, Nova Scotia, home of the cemetery where 121 of the Titanic’s passengers are buried.

Lectures chronicling the ship’s history and tragic end will be provided throughout the journey, while the menu will match the Titanic’s and the entertainment will be based on music and dance from that period.

3. I Love Lucy

A cruise ship is a fitting setting to celebrate the 60th anniversary of I Love Lucy, considering a 1957 episode of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour revealed that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s characters met on a 1940 cruise to Havana. The November 2011 I Love Lucy Cruise to the western Caribbean on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will also commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ball’s birth. The beloved actress died in 1989.


In addition to enjoying the ship’s zip-line and rock climbing walls, guests will be treated to a birthday party (with conga band, of course), Lucy trivia, impersonation contests, and non-stop screenings of the show. Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky, will be one of several featured guests.

4. Bare Necessities

Since 1990, Bare Necessities has chartered nude cruises for those who enjoy a little extra freedom on their vacations. The company’s mission is to “provide relaxing, entertaining and health-conscious vacation opportunities that offer non-threatening, natural environments where the appreciation, wonder and compatibility of nature and the unadorned human form can occur.” When Nancy Tiemann and her husband, Tom, started the company, they booked their first trip on a small dive boat. Today, Bare Necessities cruises top more than 2,000 passengers.


Are clothes always optional? “In the formal dining room we’re clothed and also when we get out of international waters and approach a country where nudity is illegal, which is most of them,” Tiemann told The Washington Post in 2009.

5. Whodunit Mystery Cruise

Whodunit Productions offers live mystery theme cruises for amateur sleuths throughout the year. As part of the productions, which are designed to be as comical as they are suspenseful, passengers are given a role to play for the duration of the cruise when they board the ship. It is up to the individual passenger how much he or she participates in the mystery, which begins on the first night and culminates with the solution being revealed on the last day. Hired actors play the most important roles in the mystery, slipping suspicious notes under cabin doors and placing clue-filled calls to passengers’ rooms. There’s often a prize for the top sleuth. Whodunit Productions is leading a Halloween-themed mystery cruise to the Bahamas later this month.

6. Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block


What’s a once wildly popular boy band to do when its celebrity starts to wane? Take a cruise. That’s what the Backstreet Boys and New Kids On The Block are doing anyway. The Backstreet Boys will welcome fans on a 5-day cruise to Key West and Cozumel aboard the Carnival Destiny in December. Those lucky enough to score a ticket—the cruise sold out in a day—will be treated to BSB performances and a question and answer session with the band. The not-so-New Kids On The Block are no strangers to cruising. The group’s 2009 and 2010 cruises both sold out.

7. Scrapbooking

The Strawberry Fields Scrapbook Shop in Cape Coral, Fla., has sold out its three-night cruise to the Bahamas this November. Liz Hicks leads classes on artful adhesives and different paint mediums, among other topics. Scrapbooking theme cruises have become increasingly popular in recent years. They typically feature a mix of expert-led sessions or classes, and open crops, during which participants can share scrapbooking tips and techniques with fellow scrapbook enthusiasts.

8. Pathway to Enlightenment

Famed psychic and healer Lisa Williams, who starred on a pair of Lifetime shows from 2006-2008, invites fans to join her on a 1-week cruise to the Mexican Riviera later this month. During the trip, Williams will discuss the difference between psychic and mediumship skills, and lead hands-on practice sessions with cards, pendulums, and crystal balls. Two attendees will be randomly selected to receive a free personal 1-hour reading with Williams.

9. Twilight

In August, Twilight fans took a 4-day cruise from Seattle to British Columbia and Alaska. The voyage, which included photo shoots and autograph sessions with some of the saga’s actors and actresses, was preceded by a land excursion to Forks, Wash., a key setting in the series. Plans are already in the works for a Twilight cruise to the Mediterranean in June 2011. Earlier this year, a Deadliest Catch-themed cruise followed a similar round-trip route from Seattle to Alaska. During the cruise, Captain Keith Colburn, one of the stars of the popular Discovery Channel show, taught guests how to select, crack, and clean fresh crab.

10. SpyCruise

SpyCruise is sponsored by the Northern Virginia-based Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, a private intelligence training facility. Participants attend exclusive lectures on espionage and counterterrorism given by some of the intelligence community’s leading experts. The upcoming SpyCruise to the Caribbean will feature former CIA director Porter Goss and former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden. Attendees may receive academic credit through Henley-Putnam University and potentially write off all or part of the cost of the cruise by claiming it part of professional development.

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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