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13 Unusual Objects Covered in Crystals and Diamonds

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Getty Images

It's not surprising to see extravagant pieces of jewelry or clothing covered with precious gems on the red carpet. Even “bejeweled” phone cases and other accessories are commonplace these days (though those typically aren't real gems). But some objects covered in crystals and jewels are decidedly more unusual. Here are 13 of them. 

1. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head

NYC, Style and a little Cannoli

You certainly wouldn’t give this version of these classic toys to your children to play with. These Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads were hand-jeweled with Swarovski crystals by Jay Strongwater, maker of jewelry and jewel-encrusted figurines. These toys and their accessories are covered with more than 50,000 crystals and were sold for $8000 apiece.

2. A Hot Wheels car

Hot Wheel Collectors

This diamond-covered car was created by Hot Wheels to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary and is valued at well over $100,000. The car is cast in 18-carat white gold and covered with more than 2700 blue diamonds. The car’s tiny engine is also adorned in black and white diamonds and the tail lights are red rubies.

3. A Coffee Machine

Tech Digest

This Nespresso Crystal coffee machine is covered with 3100 Swarovski crystals, taking its price from around $250 to upwards of $3000. Apparently, some people take their coffee this seriously!

4. A KitchenAid Mixer

Bling Diva Designs

This mixer was given its crystal coating by Bling Diva Designs. The original was made as a bridal shower gift for Katherine Kallinis, co-owner of Georgetown Cupcake. The mixer is covered by more than 8000 crystals. Melissa at Bling Diva Designs continues to decorate mixers in this way—it'll only cost you $2000 to have a shiny mixer in a color of your choice.

5. A Dog Bowl

The Rich Times

Someone seemed to think that flashy kitchen appliances might make the family pet a bit jealous. This bowl is made by BB Simon and is encrusted by hand with Swarovski crystals, complete with a skull and crossbones design. Its price is currently set around $1300.

6. Eggs

Etsy/The Glittered Squirrel

On Etsy, you can find a real egg encrusted with Swarovski crystals, along with some other shiny egg designs. The eggs are blown out and silver leafed, and the crystals are applied by hand. The listed price of the pictured egg is $550 and, at least at this point, it seems to be a one-of-a-kind creation.

7. A Toilet

BornRich

Several crystal encrusted toilets have been created to add bling to otherwise drab bathrooms. The toilet pictured above has a price tag of $75,000; some other crystal toilet creations are valued above $100,000. This design comes from the same maker as an extravagant gold plated toilet priced well above $300,000.

8. A Vacuum Cleaner

Piece of Cake PR

Although this isn’t covered from handle to floor in jewels like most of these other items, it is one of the more unusual object choices to make decorative with diamonds. This vacuum was created by GoVacuum after the popularity of their million-dollar gold plated vacuum cleaner. This device features a silver plated handle, a powernozzle sprinkled with diamond dust, and an outer filter bag that is decorated with 1000 Swarovski crystals. GoVacuum has not given this item a price tag, but has instead dubbed it “priceless” and decided to give away the one and only model as part of a contest.

9. A Fishing lure

The Most Expensive Journal

This diamond-studded fishing lure would definitely allow a fisherman to pull in that big one in style. That is, if they can afford it. Made by MacDaddy’s, this so-called Million-Dollar Lure is encrusted with 100 carats of diamonds and rubies. This lure may seem a bit too ridiculous to be functional, but it has actually been used in a fishing tournament in California.

10. Luggage

BornRich

This member of the Samsonite Black Label—a revamped version of a 1920s trunk adorned with Swarovski crystals—is sure to catch everyone’s attention in the airport, but is very exclusive.  Only 30 were made and sold in 2008 when the line came out. While no price is listed, you can be sure these went for a considerable sum.

11. Staircases

Sydney Morning Herald

There are two crystal staircases in the reception area of the MSC Splendida, purportedly the “world’s most beautiful ship.” Each step features about $40,000 worth of Swarovski crystals, making the staircases, with 72 steps between them, worth $2.8 million.

12. A Car

Getty Images

To be specific, a Mercedes Benz. This car was decorated by Garson USA and is adorned with more than 300,000 Swarovski crystals. It is estimated to be valued at around $1 million and would certainly make a statement on the road. The crystal Mercedes has been exhibited at several auto shows over the past few years.

13. A Skull

Oh Gizmo!

This is a piece by British artist Damien Hirst that is entitled "For the Love of God." The underlying skull is real, and from the 18th century. The entire skull—except for the teeth—was covered in platinum before being smothered in 8601 flawless diamonds that have a combined weight of over 1,100 carats. The large pink diamond on the forehead alone is 52 carats and worth millions of dollars. All of the diamonds used cost a total of over $22 million, which is only a fraction of the sales price Hirst could ask for his creation.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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