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10 Real-Life Locations of Fictional Television Hangouts

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Fans of the original version of The Office planning a trip to England in order to snap a picture in front of the Crossbow House in Slough, which served as the exterior of the Wernham Hogg Paper Company, are bound to be disappointed. In late 2013, it was announced that the building was set to be demolished. But pop culture fans looking to make a road trip visiting the real-life locations featured in some of their favorite television shows shouldn’t fret: plenty of other photo ops await!


John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons

The A1A Car Wash in Breaking Bad was really the Octopus Car Wash in Albuquerque, one of the mini-chain’s seven locations in the area. Which means that even if you opt for the priciest package, no one will tell you to “Have an A1 day!”


Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre/Facebook

Think all the way back to the first season of The Walking Dead—before The Farm and/or The Prison—and you might recall that the band of survivors had one destination in mind: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And when they finally reached their destination, it was glorious (at least for a few hours). Anyone looking to take a peek inside the location is welcome to do so … as long as you’ve got a ticket. Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre doubled as the CDC.


Twede’s Cafe 

In David Lynch’s early ’90s cult series, The Double R Diner is known for serving up a fabulous cherry pie and “a damn fine cup o’ coffee.” In real life, the diner—located in North Bend, Washington—is known as Twede’s Café, and counts both of those menu items among its specialties. (Just don’t ask who killed Laura Palmer… they’ve gotten enough of that over the years.)



Though the long-running series shot on a sound stage in Los Angeles, the Boston pub where everybody knows your name was based on The Bull & Finch Tavern, a real tavern in Beantown’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, which changed its name to Cheers in 2002.


Highclere Castle

Yes, there really is a Downton Abbey. In Newbury, England. Only it’s called Highclere Castle. It’s just as stunning in real life as it appears on the show—with its Victorian stylings and 1000 acres of land. And yes, it is open to the public, but only for a handful of days each year (so make your plans early).


Crazy for Series

With HBO’s True Blood getting ready to launch its final season, Bon Temps’ favorite vampire bar, Fangtasia, isn’t long for this world. But the punk dive bar that serves as its filming location, Alex’s Bar in Long Beach, California, isn’t going anywhere. You don’t find any Tru Blood on tap, but they do pour a mean Guinness. And there’s karaoke!


Wikimedia Commons

Just as Brandon and Nat moved on to bigger and better things, so too did The Peach Pit, the beloved diner that supposedly served up some of 90210’s best burgers. But during the teen drama’s first season, Los Angeles’ Apple Pan provided the diner’s exterior. In season two, filming moved to Ruby’s Diner in Pasadena, which has since closed.


Seeing Stars in Hollywood

Though it was set in Miami, the bulk of Dexter was filmed in and around Los Angeles. At least after it was clear that the show was a hit. In order to establish authenticity, the first few episodes of the series’ first season were shot in Magic City, with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Headquarters playing the part of the Miami Metro Police Station. Close enough!


Seeing Stars in Hollywood

There’s a whole lot of drama happening behind the ornate exterior of the building that houses the offices of Olivia Pope & Associates on Scandal. And the same can be said for what happens here in real life, as Olivia’s crisis management skills are put to the test on the top floors of the Downtown Palace Theatre.


Hammer and Heels

Shooting in New Orleans gave the third season of American Horror Story just the right amount of creepy Southern Gothic style. This includes the Buckner Mansion, a privately owned home in the city’s Garden District which served as the location of Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies (a.k.a. a witch school).

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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.