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The Neatoshop

14 Awesome Ice Cube Trays

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The Neatoshop

1. Star Wars

Fun fact: By adding just a touch of grape juice or purple food coloring to your Darth Vader ice cubes, you can ensure that your beverage comes to the Dark Side as the ice starts to melt. Papa Vader would be proud.

Of course, if you refuse to let your beverage join the Dark Side, there are still plenty of Star Wars ice cube trays for you to choose from. Be a rebel with Millennium Falcon cubes, see if your X-Wing ice can take out the tiny defect in the center of the massive Death Star cube, chill out with everyone’s favorite beeping Droid, or see if you can help Han escape his icy carbonite prison before you need a refill. Who knew ice cubes would be the key to reliving the best moments of one of the greatest film franchises in history? Best of all, there don’t seem to be any Jar Jar ice cubes in this galaxy or the next.

2. Chess Pieces

Are you such a chess master that even speed chess has started to seem dull? Then raise the stakes with this ice version—take too long to move and your king will literally start to melt away. Just remember to use a waterproof board or your playing area will be as short lived as your pieces.

3. Alphabet

This alphabet ice tray is perfect for all the Boggle and Scrabble fiends out there. Just pop out a few letters and figure out all the words you can spell in your drink before your letters melt away into illegible shapes.

4. Crystal Ice

These cubes might not come in an unusual shape, but the design ensures that ice from these trays will form the same way it does in the great outdoors: The impurities get pushed to the bottom of the cube so you can have perfectly clean and clear cubes every time.

5. Pi & Science

Want an appropriate way to cool down after making a dozen pies on Pi Day? Then grab some Pi ice trays and turn your post-Pi Day cocktail into a mathematical celebration. If you really want to crank your scientifically geeky cocktail to 11, you might want to grab this Cool Science tray as well that comes with such classics as the infinity, square root, and sigma signs.

6. Ice Ice Baby

If you love terrible early 90’s one-hit wonders and goofy puns then you’re bound to love the Ice Ice Baby Ice tray that references one of the stupidest songs ever made while describing exactly what it is making.

7. Abominable Ice Men

Was your favorite part of Disneyland always the Abominable Snowman in the Matterhorn? Well then, relive those memories without leaving home by letting an Abominable Ice Man move into your freezer to help you cool off your favorite beverages.

8. Shark Fins

If the first thing you think of when you hear the word shark is the unforgettable theme from Jaws, then bring some of the classic film home to your freezer. Just remember, if someone starts screaming that there’s a shark in their glass at your next cocktail party, you don’t need a bigger boat—you just need to cut that person off for the night.

9. Skull and Crossbones

Avast, ye pirate-loving geeks. Sure you can’t get much ice on board your favorite vessel, but when you’re on shore, you might as well get as much Vitamin C as you can to help you fight off that scurvy. And there’s no better way to cool off a pineapple, orange juice and rum concoction than with a few ice cubes that resemble the most famous Jolly Roger flag.

10. iPhone Apps

If you’re such a die-hard Apple fan that you have a hard time using anything that doesn’t reflect the genius of Jobs, then you can finally start enjoying your iced water again. Just add in a few of these iCubes that are based on apps on an iPhone and enjoy your tech-tastic beverage.

11. Superheroes

Whether you’re a DC or Marvel fan, you can make your drinks infinitely much more super with nothing more than the logo of your favorite superhero. Choose from Batman wings, Superman’s S or the Marvel tray that features Captain America's shield, Iron Man's mask, The Thing's head, and Hulk's fist. Just try not to add gamma radiation to your ice cubes—the process of making a superhero in real life is drastically different than what you see in the pages of your favorite comic.

12. Dinosaur Bones

You don’t have to be an archeologist to dig these cool dino bones. While this triceratops and T Rex skeleton won’t end up in a museum, they probably will be a lot more refreshing than those actually discovered underground.

13. Ice Attacks

If you own Agent Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster and consider your vacation to Roswell a “pilgrimage,” then there’s no better way to cool down after an invigorating period of sky watching than with a nice cool drink filled with UFO and meteor ice cubes.

14. Aliens

Of course, if you expect our first encounter to result in violence and death, then you might prefer your alien ice cubes to reflect the classic Aliens franchise. If so, enjoy these ice trays bearing the likeness of the famed aliens and their eggs

Do you guys have some cool ice trays you’re particularly proud of, or do you tend to stick with cubes like the rest of us?

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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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