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The Late Movies: Best Timelapses of 2012

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On December 31, 2012, timelapse.org chose its top timelapse videos of the year. Below, I bring you their picks -- plus a few of my own.

The Lion City

Creator Keith Loutit explains:

For 'The Lion City', the idea behind the extension of the tilt shift technique is for focus and distance to be something the viewer can experience. It also doubles to communicate the constant heat and humidity that hits you whenever you leave the comfort of air conditioning in Singapore.

If you've never heard of it, learn more about tilt-shift photography from Wikipedia.

Passing Through

Shot in Iceland by Kristian Ulrich Larsen and Olafur Haraldsson, who explain:

The text used for the narration of “Passing Through” is part of a speech Serbian scientist and inventor Nicola Tesla delivered in 1893 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Though today less known than figures like Edison and Einstein, Tesla was more or less the father of much of our modern technology, since he among other things developed the foundations of the European electrical system based on alternating currents and the principles of wireless radio communication.

At the time he was deeply influenced by the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach, believing that the world should be conceived as a whole where everything is interconnected influencing each
other. And that energy is a force that runs through everything be it inorganic matter, organisms or human consciousness. According to this line of thought every single action has universal consequences, not unlike what the father of modern chaos theory Edward Lorenz in the 1960’s termed ‘the butterfly effect’.

Weathering Spring

Portland, Oregon in timelapse -- gorgeous. Filmmaker Lance Page explains:

"Weathering Spring - Portland Time-Lapse" is an artistic documentation of the Portland spring using time-lapse photography. It is a culmination of nearly 3 months of work, over 64,000 photos making up 83 different time-lapse clips (about 45 of which made it into the final cut), 800 GB of hard drive space and one very exciting spring season in Portland. The video provides an epic visual roller coaster ride through the city's stormiest days on into the night displaying glimmering city lights and intense traffic and back into the daylight with those beautiful sunny spring days that lead us into the long awaited pacific northwest summer.

Passages

A highlight reel by photographer Paolo A. Santos.

Fall (Central Park)

Although shooting on this film began in 2011, it was released in 2012 so I think it counts. Filmmaker Jamie Scott describes the effort behind this one:

One of the most striking things about New York City is the fall colors and there's no better place to view this then Central Park. I chose 15 locations in the park and revisited them 2 days a week for six months, recording all camera positions and lens information to create consistency in the images. All shots were taken just after sunrise.

The Stars as Viewed from the International Space Station

By Alex Rivest, using images provided by NASA Johnson Space Center.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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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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