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12 Impressive Sci-Fi Quilts

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Science fiction fans are a creative bunch, which only makes sense if you think about it. And nothing makes a more personal gift than a handmade quilt that someone you love has poured their time and creativity into in order to display your geeky interests. Here are a dozen such projects.

1. Spock Quilt

You have to stand back a bit to see the pixelated picture of Mr. Spock's face on this quilt by Carol at Fun Threads. The shadow quilt pattern was adapted from a pumpkin carving pattern!

2. Transporter Quilt

The Transporter Beam Quilt from Etsy seller TheAlligatorBride depicts the Star Trek crew, Dr. McCoy, Captain Kirk, Engineer Scott, and Mr. Spock beaming down to some alien planet. It's made from recycled fabrics with metallic thread to simulate the special effects of the TV show. Yes, it's for sale!

3. Scotty Quilt

TheAlligatorBride is artist Elliot McNally, who has quite a few Star Trek quilts for sale. They are sized for wall hanging, not bed covering, and are quite intricate. I like this one featuring Scotty, backed by a tartan plaid.

4. Star Trek Quilt

This Star Trek themed quilt is a round robin project, meaning many people worked on it over time. It was posted by Frou, who did the Spock face in the middle. The squiggles along the left say "Live Long and Prosper Michael" in the Klingon language. Michael, Frou's brother, was the ultimate recipient of the quilt.

5. Star Wars Quilt

Sarah wrote about her friend Joan's Star Wars quilt at Sarah Loves Fabric. Joan bought the fabric in 1983, after Return of the Jedi came out. The fabric was stored for years until she finally made the quilt for her now-grown son's "man cave."

6. Lego Star Wars Quilt

Lego Star Wars gives you two of your favorite nerdy pleasures in one! This Lego Star Wars quilt features three characters from the Dark Side: Imperial Guard, Darth Vader, and Jango Fett, but that's who Jodell's son selected to be featured. You can see close up views of the appliqued characters at her site.

7. Star Wars Embroidered Quilt

Craftster Roxy Nova embroidered panels for this Star Wars quilt She started out to make a pillow case only, but as more ideas came, more blocks emerged. She alternated them with blocks cut from a sheet from the movie The Empire Strikes Back. You can see pictures of the individual blocks at Craftster.

8. Doctor Who Quilt

Erika made this Doctor Who quilt covered with daleks and TARDIS booths! She said it was "as cozy as all of space and time".

9. TARDIS Quilt

Also inspired by Doctor Who, DeviantART member EHyde made a quilt featuring a huge TARDIS, which is no doubt even bigger on the inside!

10. Another TARDIS Quilt

Rubberbisquit made a TARDIS quilt with great details, like a complete police sign on the door. She made it queen size as a gift for newlywed friends.

11. Dalek Baby Quilt

Isn't this adorable! Helen made a baby quilt with a dalek from Doctor Who on it for a friend's new baby.

12. Cthulhu Baby Quilt

While we are on baby quilts, that only thing that could possibly be cuter than a dalek on a baby quilt is Cthulhu! DeviantART member jendy-4 made this one featuring a bouncy, happy Cthulhu with balloons, also as a gift for a new baby.

See also: 8 Awesome Videogame Quilts

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]