CLOSE
Original image

12 Wacky and Sometimes Dangerous Patents for the Holiday Season

Original image

When you're getting ready to deck your halls this year, consider these holiday and winter gadgets that were patented through the years.

1. Patent No. USD477546, "Cactus Christmas Tree"

Conifers are so last season. That explains this patent for a cactus Christmas tree, filed by Kay Lynn Como in 2002. John P. Kellar also patented a similar cactus tree in 2006.

2. Patent No. USD487878, "Snowman Shaped Christmas Tree"


If even a cactus is too traditional, try this snowman Christmas tree, patented by Robert Ostermann in 2003.

3. Patent No. 5279871, "Action Christmas Tree Ornament"

This "action ornament," patented by Marc H. Segan in 1994, is a miniature operating ski slope and ski lift. Like Penguin Race for your tree!

4. Patent No. USD374968, "Tea Bag with Christmas Tree Shape"

Karen Tillquist, who filed this patent, clearly believes that around the holidays, even your tea should be festive. (Ditto your pasta.)

5. Patent USD571251, "Modified Christmas Tree"

This tree, patented by Carlos Rosas in 2008, is perfect for those who are only marginally motivated to decorate for the holidays: Just anchor it to the wall!

6. Patent No. 1324342, "Bicycle Sleigh"

This vehicle, patented by Tom Dohoszuk in 1919, is "simulative of a bicycle and similarly operated whereby a rider may advance over the surface of ice or snow at a relatively high speed ... [and provides] means whereby the tractional effect may be increased or diminished at will, permitting the vehicle to glide upon a downwardly inclined surface or the traction wheel may be used as a brake when desired." Sounds fun—and dangerous!

7. Patent No. USD317397, "Reindeer door knob cover"

This festive/kinda scary door knob cover is for the holiday homemaker who has everything. It was patented by Mary C. Guberman in 1991.

8. Patent No. USD528268, "Holiday Hat"

This hat, patented in 2006 by Janet Story Cope, would go perfectly with your ugly Christmas sweater!

9. Patent No. US1431440, "Snow Motor Vehicle"

This vehicle looks like it came straight from a superhero movie, but it was designed to tackle a very specific, non-superhero problem: Navigating on snowy roads. "In northern latitudes, where the snow fall is heavy for several months of the year, transportation by horse power and by wheeled motor vehicles is always difficult and often impossible," writes F.R. Birch in the patent for this vehicle, granted in 1922. "A successful snow motor vehicle must travel over deep, fresh snow falls, compacted snow or ice, ice crusts overlying soft snow, and slush, and must also accommodate itself to surface irregularities. ... So far as I am aware, I am the first to produce a really practical motor sled incorporating all of the features which are found to be essential in practice."

10. Patent No. US3561783, "Ski Bike"

Next to this ski bike, patented by Sunset Ave. (and invented by Richard H. Ellett) in 1971, that snow bike up above doesn't seem so dangerous. It's designed to be highly portable, rugged and durable, and "is capable of achieving high coasting speeds with with easy maneuverability in all snow conditions."

11. Patent No. USD372207, "Santa Figure in A Tub"

Santa obviously gets very dirty shimmying down all those chimneys—which is what we're going to believe is the inspiration for this figure, patented in 1996 by Seymour Cohen (who also brought us Patent No. USD385588, "Santa in a barrel blowing bubbles" and a whole slew of other Santa-themed inventions).

12. Patent No. US2607333, "Snowball Gun"

This device, patented by James W.O. Dell in 1952, will give its users an edge in their neighborhood snowball fight by forming and firing off pellets of snow. You won't shoot your own eye out, but the potential of taking out someone else's seems pretty high.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

twitterbanner.jpg

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES