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11 Functional Homemade TARDISes

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The first episode of Doctor Who aired 50 years ago today! Celebrate with this round-up of homemade TARDISes from the archives.

TARDIS is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. In the Doctor Who universe, they are vehicles for Time Lords to travel through time and space. Besides its function, the most striking feature of a TARDIS is the fact that it is bigger on the inside, because the door is "a dimensional gateway to a micro-universe." Most such vehicles change their appearance to blend in with the location and era to which they travel, but the somewhat obsolete model the Doctor uses is stuck in the form of a British police call box. Therefore it has become an icon for Doctor Who fans. And there are many Doctor Who fans who want a TARDIS that works, even if they have to make their own.

1. Refrigerator

The blogger at Time Machine Yeah moved into a house with two roommates and needed a refrigerator that's bigger on the inside (and who doesn't?), so she converted her unit into a TARDIS. Watch the transformation process in a time-lapse video. Oh, and it's perfectly functional -as a refrigerator.

2. Cat Playhouse

Astromark first built a 1/6 scale TARDIS cat toy as a gift, then decided to build a 1/2 scale TARDIS for his own cat Kaylee. The result was the most elaborate toy/shelter a cat could ever ask for. Kaylee finds it nice to sit on top of, or inside where there are plenty of climbing, sleeping, and scratching surfaces. This one is very functional -to a cat.

3. Teapot

Rebekka Ferbrache makes these beautiful ceramic TARDIS teapots to sell in her Etsy shop. They are each made to order, which takes about ten weeks of lead time. As you can see in this video, it functions perfectly well -as a teapot.

4. Sewing Kit

Craftster member Joesuplicki made a small TARDIS to hold a variety of sewing tools and supplies for whatever disaster may befall you on your travels. After the top comes off, each side folds down to reveal what you've stashed away. The center pole can hold spools of thread as well. This is really functional -as a sewing kit.

5. Cubicle

DeviantART member deezoid thought his office cubicle needed more room. There wasn't much he could do about it, but a makeover turned it into a TARDIS and it certainly feels bigger inside! And it's perfectly functional -as an office cubicle.

6. Bookcase

Hannah's father built this TARDIS bookcase to hold her collection of DVDs, because she needed plenty of room on the inside. The lighted sign on top really grabs your attention. You can get some details on the build in this video. Oh, you can bet it's functional -as a bookcase.

7. Telescope Cover

Duncan Kitchin is a stargazer and a Doctor Who fan. He also has a rather large telescope that’s too big to easily take inside and back out often. So he built a TARDIS as a telescope shed! One side comes off, and the rest rolls away on wheels. When Kitchin is through with the telescope, he just covers it up again and the instrument is protected from the weather. See more pictures at Astro Imaging Blog. Yes, it's functional -as a telescope cover.

8. Toilet

The Way Station is a Doctor Who-themed bar in Brooklyn that has a TARDIS sitting right in the middle of the room. This is handy because it's the restroom! Patrons will tell you it is wonderfully functional -as a toilet.

9. Door


Normal Jean and her husband scalpod put a TARDIS right in their living room, insuring that it will always be bigger on the inside -which is the outside, meaning the great outdoors! This project was part of a TARDIS competition a few years ago. You can see more pictures of the building process in her Flickr set. This TARDIS is quite functional -as a door.

10. Arcade

Simon Jansen built a M.A.M.E. (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) console inside a homemade TARDIS.

MAME is a piece of software you run on a PC that lets you run and play thousands of old arcade games. It works by emulating the hardware necessary to run the original game ROM files. So the games aren't a simulation of the originals. They ARE the originals. The aim of the MAME development team is to ensure the old games aren't lost as the hardware becomes more rare. Note that their purpose is to preserve these items of electronic history as exactly as possible. They aren't trying to make every game playable on your regular home PC. The fact that most games are playable is just a nice side effect for people who love the classics.

The resulting product is a complete game arcade inside a TARDIS. Yes, it's functional -as a game arcade.

11. Murphy Bed

A man in New Zealand built a very special bed for his son. By day, it’s a life-size TARDIS disguised as a police box. By night, it’s a fold-down bed! It has a working police light, pulsing LEDs, and a talking telephone. The bed was put up for auction in 2010, but unfortunately did not sell. However, you can still get some build details at the auction site. It's is very functional -as a bed.

Note: The plural of TARDIS is a subject of some argument. I borrowed the title usage from the site The Who Universe.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”