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12 Geeky Handmade Christmas Ornaments

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Looking to geek up your Christmas tree this year? Then maybe you should try making or buying one of these great one-of-a-kind, handmade ornaments.

1. Gotta Catch 'Em All

It’s fairly easy to make cute geeky ornaments with the basic clear ornament balls you can buy at any craft store, but the clever use of gold fabric and a little paint that creates a simple, adorable face makes this Pikachu ornament by DeviantArt user KaitlynClinkscales too cute to resist.

2. Holding Out For A Hero

Wanna make your holidays a little more super? Then follow Happy Looks Good on You’s lead and buy a few clear ornaments, fill the inside with paint, swirl and pour out the excess, and glue on an appropriate superhero logo. You can, of course, find more detailed instructions at the link.

3. Choose Your Own Adventure

You might have noticed by now that you can turn those clear ball ornaments into all kinds of amazing designs of your own. Of course, it takes some real artistic skills to paint one of those balls with a design this amazing. Fortunately, DeviantArt user LadyNin-Chan has the skills necessary to make an Adventure Time Christmas ornament become real—and real awesome.

4. Get Cultured

These Petri dish ornaments by Etsy seller artologica might just be the best ornaments a biologist could ever hope for. Some even look like wreaths! And don't worry about hanging any potentially hazardous bacteria samples on your tree—these designs are made from harmless watercolors.

5. Christmas Trek

Etsy seller Regeekery has all kinds of fantastic geek Christmas ornaments including old toys converted to tree decorations and fancy snowflakes bearing the TARDIS. But as great as many of the other ornaments are, nothing beats the geekery of this pun-tastic Wreath of Khan design.

6. Creature Feature

Cthulhu has never before looked this cuddly or this Christmasy. You can bring home your own adorable and festive monster thanks to Etsy seller SWStitchery, who custom makes every order.

7. Playing Video Games

Etsy seller useyourdigits has created the ultimate collection of Christmas ornaments for any true gamer featuring all the top gaming consoles from the last 20 years—all laser cut from black acrylic.

8. Meth Heads

While you're waiting for the last episodes of Breaking Bad to air, deck the halls with this hand-stitched tribute to the drug-fueled show made by Etsy seller madebygwen.

9. The Ornament That Lived

You can make your own gorgeous Golden Snitch ornament with a small golden glass ornament, wire, tissue paper, gold paint and some gold glitter. Tiny Apartment Crafts has all the instructions you need.

10. LEGO My Death Star

This is by far the most famous handmade geek Christmas ornament on the web—and with good reason: it features LEGOs and Star Wars. What more could you ask for? You can make your own LEGO Death Star with the help of this tutorial from LEGO master Chris McVeigh. He also has instructions to build your own Millennium Falcon if you need something on hand to destroy the Death Star.

11. It's Bacon!

If you can't get enough bacon, but aren't quite hardcore enough to hang meat off your tree, try making your own plush bacon ornament with this Instructable by chelsea7500.

12. It's Elementary

Whether you prefer the old-school Doyle stories or the BBC Sherlock series, there’s no denying how amazing the residents of 221B Baker Street happen to be. If you’re a die-hard Holmes fan, then show your love of the world’s greatest detective by making your own 221B Baker Street ornament with the help of this Instructable by harry_watson.

Bonus Tree Trimmings:

Already have enough geeky ornaments? Well then perhaps you’d prefer to spruce up your tree with a Doctor Who tree skirt from Etsy seller Nerdventions. She also has a Hoth-inspired Star Wars tree skirt available.

And, if you’re looking for a tree topper, this 8-bit Super Mario Bros Lakitu featuring a 1-Up mushroom from Etsy seller LighterCases is a pretty awesome option for any gamer’s tree.

Do you guys have any geek ornaments you made yourself? If so, tell us about them in the comments, and if you happen to know of any other great tutorials to make your own geeky Christmas decorations, please share the link so everyone can try their hand at the craft project.

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.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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
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fun
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.

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