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16 Amazing Places to Visit Via Google Street View

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iStock

When Google Maps first rolled out the Street View feature in 2007, its collection of images was restricted to destinations within the United States, and mostly urban ones. Since Street View went international in 2008, its portfolio has expanded to include digital postcards of the suburbs, museums, tourist attractions, and natural landmarks in 48 regions and counting. Now anyone with an Internet connection is just a few clicks away from a panoramic view of their dream vacation.

1. Adélie Penguin Rookery – Cape Royds, Antarctica 

Leave the double-layered down parka behind; you won’t need it for this quick jaunt to the South Pole, which is much sunnier than you’d expect. Just off the water, this particular Street View doesn’t have much in the way of stoplights, but it does have plenty of penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins?

2. Céide Fields – County Mayo, Ireland

For a coast of a different color, here’s a quietly picturesque view of Ireland’s Céide Fields. The fields comprise an archeological site whose windblown grasses hide a secret from the Stone Age: homes, tombs, and other complex man-made structures dating from nearly 6000 years ago. The visitor centre (pictured) leads tours across the blanket bog covering the ancient civilization’s structures, for which it advises guests to wear sturdy shoes.

3. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona, United States

A screenshot can’t quite capture the breathtaking depths of the Grand Canyon, but the 360-degree digital view from the Bright Angel Trail is a considerable step up from a gift shop postcard. For those prone to vertigo, it’s also a much safer way to peer up and down thousands of feet of rock face.

4. The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

Between gladiator battles to the death and mock sea battles with scaled-down naval vessels, the ancient Romans knew how to put on a spectacle. The Colosseum, custom-built for such purposes, is similarly scaled down here to fit inside a computer screen.

5. Pena National Palace – Sintra, Portugal

The palace on the hill is one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, and a colorful example of 19th century Romantic architecture. Pictured are the Arches Yard, the bright red brick clock tower, and the chapel. Not visible here are the 200 hectares of parkland that surround the palace, containing exotic varieties of trees from as far as New Zealand and Japan. Some careful zooming will reveal an impressive view of the city in the distance.

6. Stonehenge – Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Stonehenge, the great prehistoric mystery, has been located squarely in the middle of an English field since about 3100 B.C.—not that there was such a concept as England then. Speculation about its purpose have included suggestions that it functioned as a burial site, a religious space, an astronomical observatory, or something else entirely, but no one is really quite sure about why it’s there. Although the Google view of the site is unusually blurry, the monument might best be viewed from afar as an out-of-focus whole, rather than in closer details as just a confusing bunch of rocks.

7. Palace of Versailles – Versailles, France 

Google’s cameras aren’t just limited to the great outdoors, as this interior shot of the Palace of Versailles proves. Though at the time, Louis XIV’s opulent redecoration scheme was a slap in the face to his starving French subjects, the grand artistry of such rooms as the Hall of Mirrors survives to dazzle visitors both in person and online.

8. The White House – Washington, D.C., United States

Forget submitting an official request to your designated member of Congress and providing government-issued ID for a tour of the White House. Instead, meander along the virtual path at your own pace, taking in the same sights included on the public walking tour, including paintings of past presidents and plenty of bald eagle-embellished furniture. It’s easier than going through security clearances anyway.

9. Heron Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

No need to hold your breath for this one (unless you’re using underwater Wi-Fi). Google’s cameras have done the deep-sea diving so you don’t have to. Yes, that’s a real turtle. 

10. Wilson Island – Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The view from above the water is just as nice as from below.

11. Diagon Alley – Leavesden, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

You can visit the Warner Bros. Studio set used to film the back-to-school shopping scenes of the Harry Potter film franchise. Though there’s no option to peek in through the windows of such stores as Ollivanders and Quality Quidditch Supplies, a virtual stroll through the magical business district offers plenty of detail for fans to pore over, from the Puking Pastilles display in the doorway of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to copies of The Daily Prophet announcing Lucius Malfoy’s arrest. Keep an eye out for a suspicious masked figure lurking in the shadows… 

12. Crystal Mountain – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, United States 

Crystal Mountain is a popular ski destination for obvious reasons. Click around, pan up and down, check all 360 degrees of the view: all you’ll see is snow for days.

13. Times Square – New York City, United States

Sure, the lights and yellow cabs and tourists littering the sidewalks are all there, but without the auditory overload and ever-present danger of being run over while crossing the street, is it really Times Square?

14. Lago Bianco – Bernina-Abula, Switzerland

The white snow-capped mountains in the distance are, of course, the Swiss Alps, with Lago Bianco (“White Lake”) in the foreground. These shots were captured by a camera attached to a train car traveling down the Rhaetian Railway tracks, so this particular composition isn’t one likely to be found on the average mountain hike. 

15. Kohala Coast – Hawaii, United States

Hello, perfect beach vacation!

16. Everest Base Camp – Mount Everest, Nepal 

For the vast majority of us, this is the closest we’ll ever get to climbing Everest.

All images are courtesy of Google Maps.

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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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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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