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11 Awesome Pieces of Movie-Inspired Merch You Can Buy

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Movies don't have to end when the credits roll. Help bring their magic to your world with these 11 awesome pieces of merchandise you can own. Just be sure to wash those Hobbit socks—the floors of Mordor are filthy.

1. Hogwarts Alumni Sweater 

Muggles love to show off by wearing hoodies or sweatshirts bearing the names of their alma mater, but the wizards of Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and everybody’s favorite, Gryffindor, can show theirs off with pride in this Hogwarts Alumni sweatshirt from Etsy. Other wizards can commemorate their magical time at Hogwarts with this retro set of six posters featuring exotic locales like Hagrid’s Hut and Platform 9¾.

2. "BEACH CLOSED" Sign from Jaws

Warn people to stay out of the water, by order of Chief Brody and the Amity Island Police Department, by hanging up this near-perfect replica of the hand-drawn sign from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. You won’t need a bigger boat, just £25 to get your hands on one.

3. Jules Winnfield’s BMF Wallet from Pulp Fiction

Buy yourself a Royale with Cheese with the money you put in this wallet, which is based on the one carried by Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

4. Alien Chestburster/Facehugger plush

Snuggle up to two of the most disgusting creations in cinema history—this time in plush doll form! Take your pick between the very cuddly Chestburster or the equally huggable Facehugger from Alien. If stuffed creatures aren’t your thing, you can get this highly detailed bottle opener in the shape of a Xenomorph’s head for just $15.

5. The Mondo 237 Collection

The folks over at Alamo Drafthouse’s collectibles brand Mondo Tees always think up the best geeky stuff for cinephiles, and their Room 237 Collection takes it to another level. Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, they make sweaters, scarves, ski masks, and rugs in the same distinctive pattern as the carpets in the movie’s spooky Overlook Hotel. If you weren’t lucky enough to snag one of those, try to get a non-Mondo Room 237 gift set, which includes a map of the film’s climactic hedge maze and a photo of the July 4th Ball to remind you that you’ve always been there.

6. Steven Soderbergh’s Iconic Cinema-Inspired Shirts

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, himself an obvious movie nerd, started his own online shop that features unspecified and incredibly geeky t-shirt homages to some of cinema’s best. If you can’t recognize any on your own, we’ll give you some hints for a few of the best ones, like Sam Loomis’ hardware store from Psycho, Charles Foster Kane’s New York Daily Inquirer newspaper from Citizen Kane, the 18 LU 13 license plate on the car used to smuggle drugs in The French Connection, and the El Macondo apartment complex that Jack Nicholson’s character spies on in Chinatown.

7. Hobbit Socks

Ever want to lead the Fellowship of the Ring on an ill-fated journey to Mordor, or to guide a group of dwarves to retrieve a treasure guarded by an evil dragon, but don’t have the hairy Hobbit feet to pull it off? These Hobbit feet socks that feature faux-furry tops have got you covered. To make it all the more official, get yourself a replica of your precious Ring for the low, low price of $99.

8. Sankara Stones

Outfit yourself with the iconic fedora and go on an adventure for fortune and glory with this replica of one of the Sankara Stones from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, made with real gold flakes floating inside.

9. Flux Capacitor Charger

If you equip your car with this mini Flux Capacitor and get your engine up to 88 mph, it unfortunately won’t let you travel back in time (we think). Instead, it’ll charge two smartphones or tablets at once—and you won’t even need 1.21 gigawatts of power to do it!

10. Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

There are literally thousands of examples of Star Wars-inspired merch out there, but for our buck, none is more fun than getting caught outside on Hoth like Han and Luke and staying warm in this Tauntaun sleeping bag. It even features a plush lightsaber zipper pull to open the bag up. For the more diehard fans out there—not to mention ones with a lot of cash—try a life-size replica of Han Solo frozen in carbonite that costs a cool $7000.

11. Batman Cowl

Chances are, you probably couldn't afford the 100 percent street legal replica of the “Tumbler” Batmobile from Chrisotpher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy that went on sale early this year for $1 million. Never fear: You can still partake in excellent Dark Knight cosplay by getting this cowl, which was moulded from the one Michael Keaton wore in the 1989 Batman movie, for a mere $268.

Bonus: Stay Puft Marshmallows

Though they’re no longer available, we wish we had gotten our hands on actual limited edition Stay Puft Caffeinated Gourmet Marshmallows a few years back. If they ever go on sale again—and if Gozer corners us on the top of Dana Barrett’s building—we definitely won’t think of Mr. Stay Puft, but we will think of getting some of these awesome marshmallows.

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