A Fan-Made Seinfeld Video Game Is in the Works

First a new George Costanza-themed bar opened up in Melbourne, Australia. Now a new point-and-click Seinfeld video game is in the works. Game developer Jacob Janerka (who, coincidentally, is from Australia) quit his day job to work on his new adventure game, Paradigm. In the meantime, he’s also creating Seinfeld Adventure as a side project.

“I've probably spent two to three nights playing with the idea so far,” Janerka told mental_floss via email. “[I] will continue to work on it now though, especially because of the Internet’s response.”

The gameplay would be akin to an adventure game, following classic Seinfeld episodes like “The Contest,” “The Opposite,” and “The Soup Nazi.” However, gamers would be able to customize their own “episodes” with new storylines and adventures. Janerka emphasizes that it’s only a fan game for now, which would be made for Mac, Windows, and Linux systems, but he also hopes to acquire multi-platform licensing rights to make it mobile for iOS and Android.

To give people a better idea of what he imagines the new game would look like, Janerka created a few images and GIFs. You can even see a big overstuffed wallet (full of sugar packets, hard candy, and other hilarious nonsense) in George’s back pocket from “The Reverse Peephole.” Look closely and you'll also spot a black-and-white cookie from “The Dinner Party” as a life meter, and a marble rye from “The Rye” on Jerry’s dining room table.

At the moment, Janerka has focused on creating George and Kramer characters, but Jerry and Elaine will of course be part of the finished game. “It would be designed [in a] similar way [to LucasArts'] Day of the Tentacle, where you can control each character to help the other. Although in some episodes, like in the show, it might focus on one or more of the characters, and that's who you would play primarily.”

Janerka doesn’t have a timetable for when Seinfeld Adventure will be completed, but he expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of enthusiasm and demand for the game. “At the moment it is a fun side project that I am doing alongside my full time project (Paradigm),” he said. “Once that is finished, and if I can get the rights, I may well make a full version of the game, which would be awesome. GIDDYUP!”

[h/t reddit]

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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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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]