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15 Fantastic Geek-Themed Sand Sculptures

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Alien vs. Bender would certainly be way more awesome than Alien vs. Predator was. This delightful creation by artist Carl Jara won first place at the 2010 Windermere Sand Sculpture Classic in Port Angeles, Washington.

Sand Artist Guy Oliver Deveau completed this piece, titled “I Am 8 Bit,” for the Parksville Canadian Open.

This sculpture of Mario in front of a Game Boy was spotted at the 2012 Sand Sculpture Festival at Weston-super-Mare, England. Image taken by James F. Clay.

Photographer Damian Gadal spotted this geeky gem at the 2009 Santa Barbara Sandcastle Festival.

Marvel and DC heroes came together in artist Sean Fitzpatrick’s design for the opening of the 2008 New England Sand Sculpting Festival. Photograph by Matt Chan.

Team Sandtastic also knows how to bring heroes to life in sand as they proved with this great design for the Surf Expo.

That same sand sculpting team was also responsible for this Colbert ’08 design.

Of course any list of geeky artworks has to include some kind of Star Wars creation and sand sculptures are no exception. That being said, there’s something seriously wrong when Yoda is sitting on Darth Vader’s lap and R2D2 is hanging out under his arm. Even so, the details on this 2006 piece by the Ziguara Brothers are seriously impressive.

For a more traditional Star Wars image, there’s always this amazingly realistic R2D2 & C3PO sculpture spotted at the Sand World Contest in Travemuende, Germany by photographer redronafets.

If you’re a geek that prefers fantasy over sci-fi, then you’ll probably enjoy this incredible Lord of the Rings sculpture at the Burgas Municipality Festival of Sand Sculptures in Bulgaria in 2011. Photography by Ali Eminov.

Ali Eminov also spotted this adorable Madagascar sculpture at the Burgas Festival. I don’t know about you guys, but I love the way the penguins look in the front of the group.

Don’t worry horror fans, there are sand sculptures out there for you too! Here’s one of Pinhead from Hellraiser that artist Helena Bangert created for the 2004 Sand Sculpting Festival in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

The problem with sand sculptures is that they are so fragile, so it must have been hard for the organizers of 2007’s Hiekkalinna Sandcastle Lappeenranta to keep people away from this E.T. sculpture that desperately looks like he needs a hug. Image by Flickr user Dotsi.

Like all artforms, one of the hardest things to do in sand sculpture is to accurately portray the faces of real people. That’s why this Monty Python sculpture spotted by James F. Clay at the 2012 Sand Sculpture Festival at Weston-super-Mare, England is just so darn amazing.

Thanks PartiallyDeflected for letting us know that this one was created by Jill Harris and Thomas Koet.

In 2009, artist Jamie Wardley created this delightful depiction of Darwin in Bradford, England in honor of the scientist’s 200th birthday celebration and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Photo by Peter Hughes.
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I tried to credit both the photographers and sand sculpture artists here, but sometimes the information was limited. If any of you have any extra knowledge about one of these, please share it in the comments and I’ll update the article accordingly. Thanks guys!

This story originally appeared last year.

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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.