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11 Cakes Based on Kids' Books, Movies and TV Shows

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We've looked at cakes inspired by movies and video games. Next up: kids' books and characters!

1 & 2. Alice In Wonderland

Adults and children alike have always been mystified by the world of Alice in Wonderland. This cake, by Karen Portaleo of Highland Bakery, stands out from the crowd by incorporating so many iconic characters from the story.

The Tim Burton version was a little more adult than the original Disney classic, but there are still plenty of kids who love his darker version of Wonderland as well, and this cake, by Fatma Ozmen Metinel, perfectly captures the spirit of Burton’s world.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Cat of Cakes by Cat perfectly captured Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She even posed the book with the cake so you can compare the two.

4. The Giving Tree

If The Giving Tree made you cry as a youngster, then cutting into this perfect tribute to the book just might get you teary eyed as well. Thanks a lot to Tiffany’s Baking Company for reminding us just how depressing the end of this classic Shel Silverstein book was.

5. Yo Gabba Gabba

As they say in Gabbaland, My name is Jill—and I like to dance. At least I want to dance like a little girl when I see this great Yo Gabba Gabba cake, which was photographed by Jaysin Trevino.

6. Olivia

It’s almost as if Brendy’s Cakes knows exactly what Olivia would look like if she jumped out of the book and into the real world.

7. Curious George

The best thing about this cake, by Bellaman Desserts, is that it perfectly captures just how much trouble little George always finds himself in. After all, before the party has even started, he’s already managed to spill paint all over the cake and then leave paint-covered paw prints all over its sides. Good thing The Man With The Yellow Hat is always so forgiving.

8. Cars

While Lightning McQueen may have been the main character, Mater might be the most lovable character in the Cars series. This cake version of the redneck tow truck by Sweetbakes is a fitting tribute.

9. Kung Fu Panda

Something tells me that Jack Black would be proud if he saw this amazing cake by BCakeNY that is based on his character from the wonderful Dream Works films.

10. Adventure Time

Any fan of the Cartoon Network series will immediately recognize just how amazing this cake, by Little Cherry Cake Company, truly is. After all, it not only features Finn and a giant Jake, but also Princess Bubblegum, Ice King, Marceline, Beemo and more favorites. I do hope the back features Lumpy Space Princess and Lady Rainicorn though because they’re my favorite characters.

11. Clifford the Big Red Dog

If you were one of the millions of kids who grew up reading this series and watching the animated version on television, then you know just how perfect this cake by Sweetbakes is.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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