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8 Real Places That Inspired Superhero Headquarters

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Google Maps/Wikimedia Commons

Superheroes are everywhere you look these days—and if you're in the right city, the same can be said for their favorite meeting spots. From Avengers Mansion to the Super Friends' Hall of Justice, many of the homes, headquarters, and hangouts of comics' most famous icons were inspired by real-world locations. Here are some of the most notable heroes' headquarters that have served double-duty in both comics and the real world.

1. Avengers Mansion

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First appearing in 1963's Avengers #2, the mansion that Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and the rest of “Earth's Mightiest Heroes” called home is located at 890 Fifth Avenue in the Marvel Universe's version of Manhattan. Here in the real world, that address corresponds to the Henry Clay Frick House (above and top), a massive mansion that occupies much of the city block where Fifth Avenue meets East 70th Street, and now serves as a museum. Avengers co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby modeled the superhero team's mansion after the Frick House, which Lee passed each day on his commute.

2. The Sanctum Sanctorum

The lair of Marvel's sorcerer supreme, Doctor Strange, is located at 177A Bleecker Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan. Often at the center of various magical goings-on in the Marvel Comics universe, the real-world apartment building at that address is significantly less impressive—though it does have a notable connection to the comics world. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich shared an apartment at 177A Bleecker, which explains how the address eventually found its way into comics canon. (The fact that there's now a Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt shop on the ground floor of 177 Bleecker is a detail the comics seem to have ignored, for some reason.)

3. The Hall of Justice

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Anyone who grew up watching the feel-good animated adventures of Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends will recognize the unique architecture of the Hall of Justice, the headquarters for Superman, Batman, and the rest of the DC superheroes featured in the program. The unique art-deco style of the building was inspired by the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio—a former train station that now serves as a museum and library. A background supervisor on the series, Al Gmuer, modeled the Super Friends' iconic base of operations on the terminal, and the fictional building was later incorporated into the DC Comics universe as the headquarters of the Justice League.

4. The Daily Planet Building and Metropolis

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Superman co-creator Joe Shuster once worked as a newsboy, and the inspiration for the fictional Daily Planet newspaper building where Clark Kent works is believed to come from the former headquarters of the Toronto Star, which was called the Daily Star when Shuster worked there. Shuster himself has indicated that Toronto was the visual inspiration for Metropolis, though there isn't anything even remotely resembling the iconic globe that tops the Daily Planet headquarters to be found in the Toronto skyline.

5. Peter Parker's House

Right from the start, Spider-Man co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko chose the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, NY, as the home of everyone's favorite webslinging hero, Peter Parker. However, it wasn't until a 1989 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that his exact address was specified as 20 Ingram Street. While the real-world house at 20 Ingram Street is significantly larger than the modest home Peter Parker lived in with his Aunt May in the comics, the buildings do share one very notable, mind-blowing connection: they're both the home of the Parker family. For more than a decade before Peter Parker's home address was outed in comics, a family with the “Parker” surname had lived in the house at 20 Ingram Street. It's unknown whether the series' writer at the time, David Michelinie, was aware of the coincidence when he chose that address for Peter Parker.

(Bonus: One of the Parker family's neighbors on Ingram Street in real-world Forest Hills is the Osborne family, who are apparently friendly with the Parkers.)

6. Nightwing's Cloisters HQ

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In the late 2000s, former Batman sidekick Dick Grayson (who had switched from Robin to the more adult-sounding moniker of Nightwing when he went solo years earlier), took up residence at The Cloisters Museum in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. Serving as the museum's curator by day, he prowled New York by night, and even had certain portions of the building remodeled to suit his secret-base needs. In the real world, the medieval-styled Cloisters hasn't served as the home to any superheroes that we know of, but it still strikes an impressive silhouette at the northern tip of Manhattan.

7. The ­All-Star Squadron's Perisphere HQ

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The World War II-era adventures of DC's superheroes were rewritten in this early-'80s series which had the old-school versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and a long list of other Golden Age heroes operating out of the Trylon and Perisphere in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Built for the 1939 World's Fair, the futuristic pyramid and sphere shapes of the Trylon and Perisphere, respectively, seemed like appropriate headquarters for the team of classic characters—though they were dismantled at the end of the event. All-Star Squadron suffered a similar fate, with the series ending in 1987.

8. Yancy Street

The Fantastic Four's rock-skinned, blue-eyed heavyweight The Thing has never shied away from an opportunity to remind readers that he came from Yancy Street, a tough neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. While there isn't any Yancy Street to be found in the real-world version of that neighborhood, there is a Delancey Street—which just so happens to be in the neighborhood where Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby grew up. Given how many real-world details from creators' lives made it into these early Marvel comics, it's assumed by many comics experts that Yancy Street was indeed a stand-in for Delancey Street, which spans the Lower East Side from the Bowery to the East River.

Bonus! Address On File, No Such Resident

Some other famous fictional landmarks that have addresses in the real world but weren't inspired by any existing buildings include the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building, located at the corner of 42nd Street and Madison Avenue; Iron Man's Stark Tower, near Columbus Circle in Manhattan; and the Justice Society of America's former headquarters in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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