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8 Decidedly Different Benches to Sit On

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Just a few yards from my home, a municipal walking trail crosses the river on a refurbished old bridge set aside just for pedestrians. Many cities and towns are seeing the value in providing sidewalks and trails to encourage walking, and a place to sit and rest makes it easier for folks to get into the walking routine -and benches in public spaces encourage socializing as well. Outdoor benches can also be works of art, whether for the public, the privacy of your back yard, or in a museum. Here's a roundup of some recent innovations in sitting benches.

1. Push That Button!

This bench is for sitting, but it's also a real light switch! The work is called "Zet die knop om!" which translates to "Push that button!" The bench itself lights up when the switch is pushed. The statement it makes is about the responsibility we all have to conserve energy, and the hope is that people will use the light when needed, and switch it off when they leave. This arty bench was designed by Dutch studio HIK Ontwerpers in 2008 and exhibited in the public spaces of Utrecht and Amsterdam.

2. Chesterfield

Park benches are usually designed to withstand the elements, vandals, and children. In contrast, Dutch designer Joost Goudriaan built an outdoor bench in Rotterdam that's all luxury. This Chesterfield bench features tufted genuine leather upholstery for style and beauty. How long will it last? Dutch vandals may stop and think before destroying a bench that practically begs you to sit on it and relax.   

3. Truck Tailgate

Kathi Borrego and her husband value the ability to turn junk into useful objects. They built a bench using the tailgate of an old Chevrolet pickup truck that had been in the family for many years. The truck was falling apart, but a piece of it lives on. Read about the process of building the bench at her blog.

4. Books

This bench, photographed by DeviantART member Funnysock, is found in Berlin. It's a lovely picture, and a nice idea for recycling, but just think of the mildew and possible critters housed in this stack of paper.

5. Chair+Chair=Bench

Korean designer Jiwon Choi designed a bench that might be used in the movie Inception. On first look, it seems to be useful in a gravity-free situation only. But it's called "Chair+Chair=Bench." The two chairs can be used from either end (although not both at the same time) to conserve space, and the structure can be laid on its "front" to be used as a bench. Photograph by Andrew Haarsager

6. Huge Sudeley Bench

Pablo Reinoso designed the Huge Sudeley Bench. It consists of swirling steel bars that form arty abstract loops at each end with a real sitting bench in the middle. The nine-meter long bench was commissioned as part of an exhibit of seating outside Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England in 2010, after which it was auctioned off. Photograph by Pablo Reinoso Studio.

7. Modified Social Benches

Danish designer Jeppe Hein built a series of public benches for the coastal town of De Haan in Belgium. Called "Modified Social Benches," the basic design resembles normal park benches, but each is altered in a way that makes sitting on them a challenge of sorts. The aim is to make the user more conscious of the space and the act of sitting on a bench. They also invite conversation by subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) skewing reality. See more pictures here.

8. Polymorphic

Although it is supposed to be outdoor seating, the kinetic interactive bench called Polymorphic may as well be a playground! Made of 119 linked sections, the bench moves and molds its shape to your weight. Put pressure on one section, and the adjoining sections move as well to create a shape conforming to your body. Polymorphic was designed by seven students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture. See videos of the bench in action and under construction at the project site.

Bonus: Invasion of the Park Bench

As long as we are thinking about park benches, let's see a couple of slightly-malfunctioning robots try to take over the world. Or maybe, due to their size and the fact that there's only two of them, just the local park bench.

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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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