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14 Web Toys to Fill Your Day

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No matter whether you stay on the internet all day working or log on to catch up on the news, it’s always nice to take a left turn for a mindless break for something different. Here are 14 more places you can go to do that.

1. Endless Interestingness

The screen fills up with hundreds of thumbnails. This is Endless Interestingness, a collage of Flickr photos. Click on any of them to go to the photo page. The photos open in new windows so you can easily go back and click another.

2. Into Time

Rafaël Rozendaal presents Into Time, a plain-looking colored screen with a gradient. But click on it, and it subdivides. How many times can you subdivide? Until you run out of patience or have to break away and do something else.

3. People in Pizza Slice Costumes Becoming Pizza

This is a toy that takes longer to say than to generate, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. A person wearing a pizza slice costume turns into a pizza by a kaleidoscope effect. That’s it. You can click to get a different person. My favorite is the baby bunting.

4. Clean Your Window

The little dog will clean your window as long as you let him. He’ll go on for days if allowed.

5. Leekspin

Leekspin is a looping animation featuring the 2006 meme Loituma Girl. The song is "Ievan Polkka" by the Finnish group Loituma. The video is a clip from the anime Bleach featuring the character Orihime spinning a leek. Why did this become such an internet hit? Because it was amusing, and the standards for “amusing” on the internet were a lot lower in 2006.

6. Man In The Dark

Man In The Dark is a classic web toy that’s been around for ten years now, and has been imitated and cloned in numerous versions. A human form is suspended in the dark, and you can drag him around by the top of his head with your cursor. Simple, but still mesmerizing.

7. Sprite198

Sprite 198 is an example of another iteration of Man in the Dark using an orca.

8. Neon Flames

Neon Flames is a drawing toy that generates wispy shapes that resemble flames or distant astronomical nebulae. You can select a color, and control the generation by holding your mouse button down. Open the control panel on the right to change parameters for a variety of effects.

9. Patatap

The screen shots above don’t do justice to the web toy Patatap, because the images fade too quickly to capture at their best. Just load Patatap, and start pushing letter keys. You’ll hear sounds and see colors and shapes and flashing effects. The space key will change the color scheme. Even your cat can play! With a little practice and experimenting, you just might become a virtuoso and create something spectacular.

10. No Moving

No Moving is some type of Coca Cola ad, but that’s minor compared to the visual adventure. The idea is that you are supposed to stay very still and keep staring at the red dot. Forget that, when it asks for access to your webcam, just deny it. You will still be taken on the journey. However, if you move your mouse or click, the visuals will be over, and you’ll have to start the slow journey again from the beginning. The easiest way I found to see it was to leave my browser alone and type on a document while this played in the background. It goes for a few minutes, and of course, you’ll be shown a bottle of Coke at the end.

11. Burgers

Burgers is a page full of hamburgers, with a few chicken and fish sandwiches thrown in for variety. Mouseover to multiply them, and click to take a bite! This web toy was conceived and built by artist Guthrie Lonergan.

12. Listen to Wikipedia

The music generated at the site Listen to Wikipedia may sound random at first, but what you're hearing is real data. Wikipedia has a feed that records recent changes, which generate tones and colors. Bells indicate information added, and strings indicate subtractions. Small edits produce high-pitched tones and small circles, while larger edits produce deeper tones and larger circles. Colors indicate who the edits come from. When a new user joins Wikipedia, you’ll hear an orchestra swell. Altogether, it’s impressive how much is going on behind the scenes at Wikipedia, no matter what time of day it is. It may be soothing music, but you might also be sucked into the thrill of watching the encyclopedia of the internet being built in real time.

13. Zombo.com

Although not technically a toy, Zombo.com deserves a mention if only for its longevity. It was created in 1999 as a parody of annoying and unnecessary Flash introductory pages for websites. The design makes it appear to be loading, but nothing is happening. A voice assures you that your wait is worth it, but it takes quite some time to load any options. One option finally loads, but even after 15 years, it is not ready. The next time you are perturbed by introductory splashes or links that stay under construction for years, remember they cannot hold a candle to Zombo.com.

14. Tone Matrix

You can create some really nice music at Tone Matrix without any musical skills at all. Click the squares to design patterns that play music. I prefer to leave the first and last columns blank to frame a musical phrase. Gradually adding and removing tones makes for a nice beginning and ending to your musical interlude.

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions! See also: 17 Web Toys for Your Procrastination Pleasure and 11 Web Toys and Generators to Waste Your Time.

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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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