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15 Amazing Places You Can Tour Virtually

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If you can’t check out these places in person, you can at least visit them virtually—no flights or road trips required.

1. The National Museum of Natural History

Learn where we’ve been by taking a look around the stunning exhibits at this Smithsonian museum in the nation’s capital.

2. Taj Mahal

This look at the the famous Indian mausoleum is one of several Airpano flying 360 tours on this list.

3. U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol was completed in 1800, but it still seems to be in a constant state of construction. This virtual tour is a great way to see the landmark, and it's always scaffolding-free.

4. Eiffel Tower

Getting to the top of the iconic Parisian landmark has never been so simple. Click on the different vantage points at the bottom of the page to get a killer view—then click on numbered buildings in the distance to learn more.

5. Louvre

From this page you can choose several different areas of the world-famous museum to explore.

6. Vatican

This page on the Vatican’s website allows you to click on any of several different locations and quickly go inside for a look around. Make sure your computer is muted if you don’t want to hear music.

7. Sistine Chapel

One place the tour of the Vatican doesn't include is the Sistine Chapel. Click here and look skyward to see Michelangelo’s handiwork.

8. Route 66

Get your kicks on Google Street View of Route 66.

9. The Colosseum

Are you not entertained? You will be as you click around this virtual tour of this ancient arena.

10. The White House

This one isn’t a full 360-degree experience, but it still allows you to click on different levels and rooms of the Executive Mansion to learn more and watch videos about them.

11. The Ancient City of Petra

This aerial tour of Petra, Jordan starts at Al Khazneh, the stunning temple carved into a sandstone cliff. Fans of Indiana Jones will instantly recognize it as the location where Indy chose wisely. Drag the mouse around to get a full view of your surroundings.

12. Stonehenge

Click on one of the four Street View options to take a look around this ancient stone, uh, calendar? Jungle gym? Graveyard? Whatever it is, it’s interesting.

13. 9/11 Memorial

If you can’t make it to New York City, you can pay your respects in the meantime by taking the virtual tour here.

14. Yosemite National Park

If you’re sitting in an office, do yourself a favor and take a minute to roam around Yosemite National Park. You can almost smell the grass. As 30 Rock's Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.”

15. The Pyramids

Survey the awe-inspiring achievement of the Great Pyramids at Giza from above.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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