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15 Oscar-Winning Films Recreated With Peeps

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Highlights from The Washington Post's Peeps Show diorama contest.

1. Up!

The winner of the 2010 Washington Post competition was this recreation of the Pixar film, here titled "EEP!" with Peep characters and balloons made from Peeps. It was built by Michael Chirlin and Veronica Ettle of Arlington, Virginia.

2. West Side Story

The final scene from the Broadway musical/film "Peep Side Story" was a collaboration by Stacey Rathbun of Arlington, Virginia, and Maree Martinez and Nick Johnson of Greenwich, Connecticut. The street lamp is a working book light! It was a semifinalist in WaPo's 2010 competition.

3. Inception

Leonard Bailey and Gabriel Winston-Bailey call their diorama "Inpeeption," and it became a runner-up in the 2011 competition from the Washington Post.

4. The King's Speech

Also from WaPo's 2011 contest, "The King's Peep" by Carolyn Prince Racich and Claudia Tielking portrayed the Academy Award-winning movie in royal marshmallow bunnies. The double-barreled diorama is quite faithful to the film.

5. Black Swan

Jesse Willard and Megan Walline also went for an Oscar-winning film in 2011, with "Black Peep." It became a runner-up in the WaPo competition.

6. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

The classics never go out of style. This entry, "P.E.E.P.: The Easter-Terrestrial" by Abigail Bathrick and Caroline Chen, impressed us thirty years after the film was released.

7. Silence of the Lambs

This version is called, of course, "Silence of the Peeps," and depicts FBI agent Clarice Starling interviewing Hannibal Lecter behind protective glass. Creator Sadea Ramsay built this diorama, which made runner-up for WaPo's 2011 competition.

8. The Wizard of Oz

"The Peep Behind the Curtain" is the name of the diorama from Karen Roberts and Ali Nabavi that illustrates the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.The giant head is probably not made of marshmallow.

9. The Grapes of Wrath

The diorama called "The Peeps of Wrath" may be based on the John Steinbeck novel or the 1940 movie adaptation, which won a couple of Academy Awards. The movie poster in the scene leads me to believe it's the latter, so it can be included in this list. The work of Diane Page made runner-up in the 2009 WaPo competition.

10. Thelma and Louise

The 1991 film Thelma and Louise won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the candy version "Peeps on the Run" won runner-up status in the 2009 Washington Post competition. The entry was from Karen Schroll. The Barbie sunglasses are a nice touch!

11. Camelot

The 1967 film adaptation of the Broadway musical won three Academy Awards. In 2009, it was revived in Peep form for the diorama competition. "Peepsalot" was constructed by Kari Cannistraro from a long list of craft supplies.

12. WALL*E

"PEEP*E" was created by Michael Chirlin and Veronica Ettle for the 2009 WaPo contest. In this scene, the robot PEEP*E shows Eve the sprout he planted in a boot.

13. Amadeus

The 1984 Mozart biopic Amadeus won eight Academy Awards. In 2008, "Peepadeus" was a semifinalist in the Washington Post diorama competition. Sarah Hoff and Jack Hsu designed it as a triptych depicting different parts of the story.

14. No Country for Old Men

This 2008 WaPo semifinalist built by Megan Walline is called "No Country for Old Peeps." Possibly the bloodiest diorama in that year's competition.

15. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

"Crouching Tiger, Peeping Dragon" by Karen and Mike Wolf-Branigin, made semifinalist at the 2008 competition. In the Peeps version, you can see the strings, but that's okay -we knew they were there in the movie as well.

Bonus: Mommie Dearest

Kathye Hamilton created "Mommie Peepest: No More Wire Hangers," for WaPo's first diorama contest in 2007. It is a Peep parody of the 1981 film Mommie Dearest. No, Mommie Dearest didn't win any Academy Awards, but I included it because the film won five Razzies! The recreation is faithful from Faye Dunaway's makeup to the rubber duck.

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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.