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Mike Williams

10 Pieces of Fan Art that Ask “What If Things Ended Differently?”

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Mike Williams

We live in an era of fan fiction, when it's all too common for people to imagine and describe how their favorite characters could have ended up—and that impulse stretches to art. Here are a few of our favorite alternate endings to great pop culture tales as imagined by artists, many of which were part of the Bottleneck Gallery’s “Alternate Ending” art show.

So without further ado, I ask you to explore “What if."

1. Classic Disney Films: The Villains Won

Justin Turrentine has created a number of artworks based on some of the most classic Disney films, but perhaps his most thought-provoking works are those that ask, “what if the bad guys won?” In the series, you see Gaston posed with Beast’s head on a wall and a portrait of him and Belle together; Ursula sitting down for a feast of Flounder, Sebastian, and Scuttle; Cinderella’s sisters sporting glass slippers; and more.

2. Batman: Bruce’s Parents Weren’t Killed in a Mugging

No, Daniel Irizarri doesn’t explore what would happen if Bruce Wayne’s parents survived, because then Batman just wouldn’t exist. Instead, he explores what if Batman’s parents died in different ways, causing him to take vengeance on something other than criminals. He questions if he might become a vigilante designated driver if they were struck by a drunk driver; if he might instead be Captain Planet if they were killed by pollution; if he would attack fast food if they died from high cholesterol; and, of course, what might happen if they were plagued by colon cancer.

3. Star Wars: Anakin Didn’t Go to the Dark Side

To be fair, if Darth Vader never “killed” Anakin, then the best Star Wars movies never would have happened and no one would even care about the series. But, if DeviantArt user Castellani’s version of the story happened and Anakin never turned evil, one family in the galaxy would be drastically happier.

4. Se7en: John Doe Put Something Good in the Box for Detective Mills

Serial killer John Doe still might not have the happy ending Andres Lozano Martin shows after Doe already killed five people, but without playing the role of “Envy” and pushing Detective David Mills into killing him, and thus taking on the sin of “Wrath,” Se7en certainly wouldn’t have had such a dark ending—and Mills would sure be a lot better off.

5. Pretty in Pink: Andie Walsh Went for Duckie

As someone who always hated that Pretty in Pink ended with Andie choosing the rich guy over sweet-hearted Duckie, I love Darshana Pathak’s embroidery showing what Andie should have done.

6. Dumb and Dumber: Lloyd and Harry Agreed to Be Oil Boys

If they were just slightly less dumb, or if the bikini team specifically asked Lloyd and Harry to be their oil boys rather than hinting that's what they wanted, then this could have been the real ending, not just a great image by Greg Puglese.

7. King Kong: Kong’s Trip Went Well

Of course an angry wild ape would go wild and cause mayhem and destruction if he was forcefully captured and transported to New York, but what if he was treated more cordially and the journey was more of a vacation? Mike Williams imagines what would happen if Kong got to enjoy New York like any other tourist.

8. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Frank Shirley Did Press Charges

Sure, Frank Shirley should have warned his employees not to expect a Christmas bonus, but that still doesn’t excuse kidnapping, and Paul Ainsworth shows how Clark and Eddie’s holiday would have ended if they pulled this stunt in the real world.

9. The Dark Knight Rises: Gotham Was In Ashes

My question is, if Rob Loukotka’s ending really happened and Batman finally had Bane’s permission to die, would he do so right away? And if so, would it be through suicide, murder, or just because the hero finally gave up the will to live?

10. Comic Books: Companies Sponsored Superheroes

Roberto Vergati Santos’ “what if” might not be an alternate ending like many of the other artworks on this list, but it seems the most realistic if any of these tales actually took place in our world. After all, while Iron Man and Batman might have the funds to support their own labs and keep improving their equipment, Hawk Eye, Bruce Banner, the X-Men, and many more could certainly benefit from the increased funds corporate sponsorship could bring them—and you know Coca Cola, Monster, Microsoft and other major companies would jump at the chance to put their brand names all over superhero uniforms.

Personally, I’d like to know what would happen if one of the boys in Weird Science stayed with Lisa, but I guess they tried to answer that one in the terrible TV show based on the movie. What about you guys, are there any stories you’d like to see end in a different manner?

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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