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12 Crazy Materials Used to Make Alternative Christmas Trees

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Tired of the boring old Christmas tree sitting in your living room? Then perhaps you should try sprucing up your home with one of these weirdly wonderful alternative trees instead.

1. Jewelry

Encrusted with 21,798 diamonds and 3762 crystal beads, this blingy beauty—created by Soo Kee Jewelry of South Korea—was once the world’s most expensive Christmas tree. The record has since been broken by a hotel in Abu Dhabi that covered a massive artificial pine in jewelry valued at over $11 million.


While the size of the average home makes it impossible to compete with this world-record-holding LEGO Christmas tree constructed in St. Pancras Station, London, the 600,000 brick masterpiece can certainly serve as great inspiration for anyone who wants to build a smaller version at home.

3. Yarn

Here’s another record-breaking tree perfect for inspiring your own DIY tree. The world’s biggest knitted Christmas tree was on display at Cornwall, England’s Eden Project in 2006.

4. Books

Making a tree out of things that are made of trees is so meta! While I’m particularly fond of this lovely book tree featured at the Gleeson Library in USF, there are plenty of other great ones out there as well. For more bookish Christmas trees, don’t miss this great article on The Mary Sue.

5. Beer Bottles

'Tis the season to be drinking—especially if you want to put together your own beer bottle tree in time for the holidays. I don’t know much behind the story of this Christmas tree—other than the fact that it took a lot of Grolsch to put together.

If you don't want to do that much drinking, use this impressive Heineken tree—put on display in Shanghai, China in 2009—as inspiration: It was made up of over 1000 full bottles of beer.

6. Mountain Dew Cans

Even if you don’t drink alcohol you can still have a great beverage-inspired tree. Just look to the Mountain Dew Tree for guidance. Even the “star” on top is actually made from a Dew two-liter bottle. This video shows a few basics of how the thing is made.

7. Plastic Bottles

If you’d like to try reusing before you recycle, try your hand at crafting an amazing plastic bottle Christmas tree like this one made by Dale Wayne.

When it comes to spectacularly large trees made from plastic bottles though, it’s hard to beat this tree put on display in Kaunas, Lithuania made from the bottoms of green plastic bottles zip-tied together into half-spheres which are then constructed into a full tree. The massive masterpiece took more than 32,000 bottles to complete and it is lit up with over 40,000 Christmas lights.

8. Old Bicycles

The “Tree-cycle” might look more like a modern art creation than a traditional Christmas tree, but it’s still fun and festive. The massive sculpture, displayed in Sydney, Australia, was made with over 100 old bicycles that were painted and positioned into a tree shape.

9. Cell Phones

Westcom Electronics Mall in Vietnam started collecting phones eight months early in order to create this cool tree to send a message about the wastefulness of the Vietnamese cell phone industry. The country’s residents use more than 110 million cell phones and throw away over 50 million of them a year. The 15-foot tree features more than 2000 cell phones displayed over 32 layers.

After the mall was finished with the tree, it was auctioned off, and the proceeds went to charity.

10. Hub Caps

What better way to get your car dealership ready for the Christmas season than creating a tree out of old hub caps you have lying around? This brilliant marketing move was dreamed up by Champion Auto Sales of Arundel, Maine.

11. RAM

Admittedly, the shape could use a little work, but it’s still pretty obvious that this collection of RAM is supposed to be a Christmas tree—especially given the cute little star ornament at the top. This adorably geeky mini tree was submitted to Geeks Are Sexy by Adam from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

12. Circuit Board

Here’s another geeky Christmas tree alternative –only this one comes pre-made. Just stick a 12 volt battery on this little tree and it will be all lit up and ready to glow.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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.