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15 Cool and Unusual Candles

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Candles are a great way to add some ambiance to any room—especially when that candle smells like pizza. The next time you're planning a special evening, with yourself or someone else, consider these options.

1. SLICED "FRUIT"

These handpainted candles come in all sorts of shapes like lemons, kiwis, and watermelon slices. Smells like summer!

Find it: Etsy

2. GLACIERS 

Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson's creations have a message behind them: global warming can only be ignored for so long. Just like real icebergs, these wax designs melt when you light them. Choose from five different shapes.

Find it: Generate

3.  CURLING CANDLE 

These tapers look ordinary enough—until you strike a match, that is. Once these ombré candles begin to burn, their sides curl and fold over, creating whimsical, eyecatching designs.

Find it: Uncommon Goods

4. SKUNK- OR CHLORINE-SCENTED

If fresh pine isn’t your thing, may we suggest nacho cheese? The Stinky Candle Company specializes in candles boasting unorthodox odors. Choose from scents like chlorine, garlic, skunk, and potting soil. While we don’t recommend the fart or skunk candles, the money candle definitely has some potential.

Find it: Stinky Candle Company

5. CRYING CANDLES  

The magic to these candles is the ceramic holder. The candles—shaped like a brain, antlers, and bunny ears—fit snugly into a skull, deer, and rabbit holder, respectively. When the colored wax starts to melt, it oozes through the eyeholes of the holder, making it look as though the figurine is crying. The Kickstarter campaign for these creepy-but-cool candles is over, but keep an eye on the designers' page for updates about availability.

6. BOOK CANDLES  

Perfect for curling up with a good book: Candles with scents based on classic works of literature. Pick from “Sherlock’s Study,” “Winterfell,” or “Gatsby’s Mansion.” Or channel the smell of your favorite collection with “Old Books” and “Trashy Romance Novel.”

Find it: Etsy

7. MELTING CAT  

These geometric cat candles hold a (slightly morbid) surprise inside. Once lit, a skeleton cat emerges, which almost makes you feel bad for setting it on fire in the first place. If the cat's not your style, the candle also comes in bird and deer form.

Find it: Amazon

8. ROMAN CANDLES 

The packaging on these punny candles, which come shaped like Roman numerals, promises they'll help you party like it's MCMXCIX.

Find it: Amazon

9. CACTI

These realistic cacti candles might fool your friends—until you light them. The wax candles come in sets of six.

Find it: Amazon

10. PIZZA-SCENTED 

Here’s another unusually-scented candle for your enjoyment. Created by Man Cans, this candle smells just like New York-style pizza. As the name implies, it comes in a metal can. Fancy!

Find it: Man Cans 

11. PLANTABLE PACKAGING

This candle smells like a blooming garden filled with poppies and sunflowers. If the floral candle makes you long for the real deal, simply soak the seed-infused box in water and plant it in the ground. 

Find it: Uncommon Goods

12. KATZ’S CHOCOLATE EGG CREAM-SCENTED

You may know that Katz’s Deli has its own beer, but did you know it sells a candle, too? Made in Brooklyn, these wax creations evoke the restaurant’s famous chocolate egg creams. Light one and be transported to NYC's Lower East Side, no matter how far away you actually are.

Find it: Uncommon Goods 

13. CRACKLING CANDLES 

The next best thing to a real fireplace? These candles, which boast wooden wicks that crackle as though you'd thrown another log on the pile. The candles comes in three cozy scents: Sweater Weather, Mulled Cider, and Snow Day.

Find it: Uncommon Goods

14. 60-HOUR CANDLE  

This long-lasting candle features a coiled design, which promises 60 hours of burn time. Simply pull the candle through the clip to burn more.

Find it: Amazon 

15. BODY PARTS 

If the skeleton cat and the weeping skull weren't creepy enough, consider one of these hyper-realistic candles molded to look like ears and mouths. Not our personal idea of tranquility, but hey: to each their own!

Find it: Etsy

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