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harry potter camp

11 Alternative Summer Camps

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harry potter camp

All a summer camp used to need to keep kids entertained was a good ball field and a place to go swimming. Now, though, campers can while away their summer days doing all sorts of specialized camping. Let's take a look at some camps that appeal to kids with specific interests.

1. Kids ‘N Comedy Camp

“Take a break from the mosquitoes and the kumbayas,” says the official website, “and spend 2 weeks at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan, learning about improv, comic acting, and stand-up comedy!” Every session ends with the participants putting together a live “graduation” show like the one above from 2008.

2. Explosives Camp

If your teen loves pyrotechnics, don’t let her summer go up in smoke. The Missouri University of Science & Technology admits 20 lucky high-schoolers into this elite program every June. During the application process, prospective campers are asked to submit a 500 word essay about “Why I am interested in a career focusing on the application of explosives.” If accepted, your son or daughter will learn safety procedures, demolition basics, and how to build 3-inch firework shells.

3. Ninja Camp USA 

Here’s an epic recruitment video guaranteed to stir your inner ninja. Sessions are held in New York state’s Orange County during June, July, and October. 

4. Spy Camp

Spy Camp feels so authentic, it might as well be classified. Training missions, making top-notch disguises, and learning the ropes from actual spies are all part of the package. And as an added bonus, the super-secret camp is hosted by Washington D.C.’s International Spy Museum.

5. Fiji Shark Studies Camp

Go Broadreach

Before departing for college, kids can go scuba-diving off the coast of Fiji with the ocean’s most misunderstood denizens.

6. “Talk to the Hand” Puppet Camp

Tears of Joy

With a name like that, it has to be good! Aspiring Jim Hensons throughout the greater Portland area construct their very own puppets before showing them off in an original stage play.

7. Pali Hollywood Stunt Camp

“There’s a lot of trust involved,” says stunt director Dean Cudworth. “I start kids off at a two-foot fall. Every day, I go up about two [to] three feet.” That all adds up. Other heart-pounding activities include stage-fighting and motorsports.

8. Wizards and Warriors Camp

Located in northeastern Massachusetts, the camp helps kids create their own characters and partake in a large-scale fantasy roleplaying game. 

9. Urban Kid Adventures

New York City's Urban Kid Adventures teaches city kids about the wonders of nature. Their goal is to "provide a fun, safe, environment where the children can discover first hand how awesome nature is"—from friction fires to archery. UKA also runs seminars and workshops for adults.

10. Canada’s 1st Zombie Survival Training Camp

Zombie Survival Camp

It’s the trend that just won’t die! These brain-eaters have become media darlings lately. Should the living dead ever actually rise, you’ll be well-prepared to fend them off after mastering “hand-to-rotting-hand combat” and this unique camp. 

11. Harry Potter Camp

Harry Potter Camp

This delightful camp (run by Logan, Utah’s school district) has been “Bringing Magic to Muggles” by helping Potter parents educate the next generation of witches and wizards for over a decade. Now, if only somebody would start a Game of Thrones version…

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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