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14 Great Examples of Geeky Fine Art

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Fine art is alive and well, and artists often incorporate the fun aspects of pop culture—particularly the geek side of the spectrum.

1. Headless Chicken

Internet Week New York asked artists and students if they could draw the internet. The results were quite eclectic, but Barbara Ana Gomez’s submission nailed it on the head in a highly artistic manner.

2. It’s Murray Time

Casey Weldon made these portraits of Bill Murray playing all of Royal Tenenbaums for the “Bad Dads” art show at the Lopo gallery in San Francisco. Prints are available on his website.

3. Wisdom of the Llama

Apparently, Bill Murray is a good subject for geek painters, as evidenced by N.C. Winters' great portrait casting the actor in a religious light. Prints can be purchased at the Gallery 1988 website.

4. In The Garden of Audrey

Allison Sommers painted this renaissance-styled picture of Audrey from the Little Shop of Horrors for Gallery 1988’s “Crazy 4 Cult 5,” their fifth art show dedicated to cult classic films.

5. Da Doo Dionaea

For the same “Crazy 4 Cult 5” show, Scott Scheidly also painted a portrait of Audrey, although his version involved a detailed portrayal of her anatomy.

6. England 932 A.D.

If you’ve ever wondered what Monty Python and The Holy Grail would look like when portrayed in the art style of the time of the film’s setting, then Max Dalton’s contribution to the “Crazy 4 Cult 5” show should answer your question.

7. The First Goonie

This Goonies-inspired pirate piece was Eric Braddock’s submission into the “Crazy 4 Cult 5” show.

8. Hello, Mr. Skeksis

While the Dark Crystal may be one of the lesser-known Jim Henson films, the evil Skeksis are just scary (yet regal) enough to make a perfect subject for a geeky fine art painting. This wonderful creation was made by Leontine Greenberg.

9. Andy Dick

Gallery 1988 doesn’t limit its shows to cult movies. Their “Is This Thing On” show revolved around artist-interpretations of famous comedians. As far as fine art goes, none of the paintings were nearly as upscale as this rendition of Andy Dick as a sad clown by Chet Zar.

10. Prince Holds the Katamari On His Shoulders

Flickr user Everfalling created this cool bronze sculpture for one of his classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. It’s a seamless blending of the classic myth of Atlas and the delightfully non sequitur game of Katamari.

11. Ascension of the Kenny

This iconic portrait of Kenny was Beau Stanton’s contribution to the South Park 15th Anniversary Art Exhibition in at the Opera Gallery in New York. Laughing Squid’s Scott Beale has more great photos of the show for those interested.

12. Link

Perhaps one of the more underappreciated classic artistic creations are the gorgeous stained glass masterpieces that adorn the ancient chapels of Europe. In the geek renaissance, these artworks are getting the attention they deserve, thanks to stained glass artists like Lynda Macrae of The Glass House in Canada. Here you can see her beautiful version of the Link from Zelda recreated in stained glass, as designed by Kelli Nelson and photographed by Flickr user SevenCubed.

13. The Scream

To be fair, the last two on this list are not at all like the others. Instead of involving geek-subjects portrayed in fine art, they instead offer a classic fine art reimagined using geeky media.

This first piece shows Bernard Pras, who recreated Edvard Munch‘s classic painting, “The Scream,” through the use of electrical wiring, transistor circuit boards and a variety of recycled junk (including a Scream movie mask).

14. Oreo Cameos

These gorgeous and classical cameos are sculpted from the cream of Oreo cookies by artist Judith G. Klausner. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to eat art so badly.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock

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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