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Touch Effects

17 Web Toys for Your Procrastination Pleasure

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Touch Effects

Sometimes you need to take a break from work and just veg out by doing something mindless and pleasant. TV or a game of solitaire is good for that, but both require a set time commitment. There are hundreds of alternatives on the internet in the form of web toys. These are sites that offer strange visuals, often interactive visuals, that require no real mental effort but might bring a smile to your face for a while.

1. Spider

Vector Park has some great toys and games, some of which are harder to figure out than others. Spider turns your cursor into a tiny spider, with which you can lead a fantasy animal around by his curiosity. 

2. Starfield

Ooh, cosmic! Starfield is just what it says on the tin. Pretend you are flying at warp speed through the galactic regions of the universe. Or something like that. Click your mouse button for extra effects. Take a turn and hold on!

3. Staggering Beauty

Staggering Beauty is a web page that comes with an epilepsy warning. The toy resembles the blown-air figures you see at used car lots to draw attention. But shake him vigorously and the page suddenly goes psychedelic!

4. Silk

Silk is an interactive drawing program (with music) in which you weave patterns of silky wisps of smoke across the screen to create horizontally-mirrored art. Whatever I draw, it ends up looking like a skull. Open the controls on the left to change color.

5. Many Lines

Sometimes you'd like to draw with many lines at the same time. That's what Many Lines is about. You have the options to turn off the colors and turn down the number of lines. Your "flair" depends on the speed of your cursor.

6. This is Sand

 

Have you ever made colored sand sculptures in a glass jar? You can do it online with no mess with This is Sand. Click and hold to drop sand, and press "c" to change colors. I didn't take the time to make anything particularly creative, but you might.

7. RGB

RGB is pretty simple. Just touch the letters. They will tell you what they are. A lovely way to annoy other people around you.

8. Cat Bounce

Cat Bounce shows you bouncing cats. If your cats stop bouncing, you can pick them up and drop them again. No cats were harmed in the making of this web toy.

9. Koalas to the Max

Koalas to the Max is a classic that you may have played before. All you need to do is mouseover, but you may have to reserve a bit of time because it's so hard to stop! If you are extremely busy and a bit compulsive, you might want to save this one for later. Here are some similar pictures, and instructions for making your own.

10. Chicken on a Raft

Chicken on a Raft is a classic that doesn't do anything but test your patience. Another page that's perfect for annoying your co-workers.

11. Touch Effects

Touch Effects is a cosmic drawing toy in which you can adjust the parameters for your own enjoyment. Turn the tethers off and on for a totally different experience.

12. Proyecto

I'm not even sure if Proyecto is the true name of this page. It's full of creepy crawlies that keep following you around. You can try to outrun them or outwit them, but they keep coming anyway.

13. Falling Dominos

Falling Dominos is an ad for Coca-Cola, but it's nice to watch at least once.

14. LOLZ

LOLZ from Drawball is a face that changes depending on what you do. Take a little time to experiment with your mouse. I just like to make his eyes roll around all googly.

15. Bring in the Cats!

Bring in the Cats! features of course, cats. They have to load first, but it's worth the wait. May be an epilepsy trigger at times. I bet you leave this on longer than you should.

16. Winning Solitaire

Winning Solitaire is a cheat sheet for getting the payoff in online solitaire without actually having to win. Just click, and click, and click and hope someone catches you celebrating your "win." It's from Mr. Doob, who has many other things you can play with, such as pixelated paper, balls, and fire

17. Voxels

Voxels, another toy from Mr. Doob, invites you to build with blocks. This one can be as artful or as aimless as you want it to be. Click on the grid to add blocks; click anywhere else to change your point of view.  
 

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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