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35 Obsessively Specific Gifts for Every Person on Your List

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ThinkStock

This hyper-tailored shopping list has something for everyone you know, including your very sophisticated chicken.

1. For: THE ASPIRING CHEESE WHIZ

With the Charted Cheese Wheel, $28, there’s no excuse for confusing Muenster and Manchego ever again.

2. For: OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE GADGET HOUNDS

The Nerd Herder Gadget Wallet, $29, corrals your cash, cards, phone, and other odds and ends in cozy felt and even cozier math equations.

3. For: YOUR ’80S-LOVING CUBICLEMATE

Tidying up your desk is a lot less puzzling with this Room for the Cube organizer, $20.

4. For: ASPIRING DOCUMENTARIANS

The iPhone Boom Mic, $40, practically guarantees YouTube fame. 

5. For: THE METICULOUS MIXOLOGIST

Until you build that cyborg bartender, the Perfect Drink, $70—a clever scale that connects to your tablet and guides you through recipes step by step—should do just fine.

6. For: TECHIES WHO NEED SOME SPACE

Feel tethered to your tablet? Get some distance while keeping your playlist within ear’s reach with the Zooka bluetooth speaker, $20. 

7. For: LITERATE PACIFISTS

This pouch, $15, holds a handful of pens. Or one tiny sword.

8. For: SUMMER CAMP NOSTALGISTS

These smoldering sticks, $13, make that campfire smell portable.

9. For: CRAFTY SMOOTHIE ADDICTS

This clever Cuppow lid, $8, turns any ordinary canning jar into a Portlandia-worthy to-go cup.

10. For: COMFORT-ZONE CAMPERS

You may not be a bear, but you can still feel at home going in the woods with Alite’s Twig Pod kit, $39.

11. For: ASTRONOMERS WHO KNIT

Make your calendar sparkle with the Stitch Upon the Stars 2014 calendar, $24. Each month, you sew a new zodiac with the kit’s glow-in-the-dark floss.

12. For: INTROVERTED KARAOKE STARS

Sing badly anywhere with a karaoke home system, $299.

13. For: ANTIGRAVITY GARDENERS

Move over, Babylon. Boskke’s sky planters, $75, can turn that drab office ceiling into a hanging garden.

14. For: TENDERFEET

Adventure is afoot with Keen’s ultra-durable, odor-resistant, blister-proof, strong-as-steel, foot-specific Olympus socks, $19.

15. For: CLUMSY SKIERS

The butterfinger-proof Dakine Skye jacket, $300, features a phone tether, so you’ll never drop your cell from the ski lift again. (Also available in the men's Clutch jacket, $430.)

16. For: VEGAN ASPIRING TAXIDERMISTS

If your bare wall is begging for an animal-free hunting trophy, $27, here you go. (Also great for hunters with bad luck.) 

17. For: PEOPLE IN THE CHEAP SEATS

Forget the zoom button! The Easy Macro Cell Lens Band Wrap, $15, makes every shot look like it was taken from the front row.

18. For: PEOPLE WITH PROBLEMS

Illustrator Ali Graham interprets every one of Jay-Z’s 99 problems on limited-edition art prints, $20. 

19. For: STYLISH TYPISTS

Unlike its ancestor, this bracelet, $40, won’t give you carpal tunnel.

20. For: WANNABE JAMES BONDS


With a 4GB USB drive, these cuff links, $110, make fashion functional.

21. For: Sorta-Smelly Monster Lovers

This Mary Shelley-inspired perfume, $17.50, could make even Frankenstein's monster smell sweet in no time.

22. - 26. GIFTS THAT RAISE THE BAR

They say print is dead, but until you can hide a flask in a Kindle, we’ll keep hitting these books, $55.

Highland Park’s complex 15-year-old single malt, $77, pulls off the toughest Scotch trick: It’s both smoky and subtle. 

Pour a man a liqueur and he’ll drink for a day. Teach him to make his own with this book, $14, and he’ll live on DIY limoncello all year.

Nothing says “I’m not a sucker for a fancy label” like a milk jug of Vaso di Marina, $28, an easy-drinking California red.

Embrace your inner Viking by turning boring old honey into a jug of delicious mead with this kit, $60. Pairs well with reindeer!

27. - 30. GIFTS FOR YOUR PET

Turtle cozies are perfect for chilly weather … and the country club. $15, MossyTortoise.etsy.com

The wine barrel dog bed, $299, fit for a medium-bodied pup with a nice nose.

Does your cat think it’s the center of the universe? There’s a hat for that, $30.

Go meta with the Nogg chicken coop, $3,155, a handmade cedar egg in which hens happily ... lay eggs.

31. - 35. GIFTS FOR BIBLIOPHILES

The irascible Pippi Longstocking makes a comeback in this striking comic book, $15.

Help your friends learn to love long and prosper thanks to this book of dating tips, $15, from fanboy Eric Smith.

For every Jane Eyre Bookshelf Bandit Tote, $18, sold, a book is donated to a community in need.

Julian Montague’s field guide, $16, is a must for naturalists devoted to spotting carts in the wild.

Timeless classics, now in spiffy noir outerwear; $13 each. And we happen to have a set to give away. Tweet your favorite badass Jane Austen fact @mentalfloss #pulpclassics and we’ll choose a winner on December 17.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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fun
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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