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18 Beautiful and Unusual Playing Cards

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amazon

Cards are a fun way to pass the time, and there are so many decks available—featuring everything from lumberjacks to characters from Ghostbusters—that you'll never think about getting a boring set from a drug store ever again. Here are some cards so beautiful, you might not even want to use them.

1. RAINBOW CARDS; $13

These colorful cards come from the Brooklyn-based design duo Fredericks & Mae. When spread out, the cards create a vibrant rainbow. They come in a foil-stamped box and are accompanied by a booklet with some game recommendations.

Find it: Amazon

2. PEAKS; $15

Peak Playing Cards each come with an illustration of one of Colorado's 53 14ers (mountains that are at least 14,000 feet above sea level). Each card features a different mountain along with its name and elevation. You can decide between Day and Night decks that show different illustrations on the back. All the backs are the same so no one can figure out what cards you’re holding.

Find it: Art of Play

3. GLITCH; $15

These seemingly defective cards are created by San Francisco-based designer Soleil Zumbrunn. The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, you can now purchase a deck for yourself online.

Find it: Amazon

4. BROSMIND; $4

Barcelona-based design studio Brosmind created 54 delightful illustrations for this whimsical pack of cards. Each illustration is better than the last, with images like spades riding dogs and doughnuts running around.

Find it: Amazon

5. GHOSTBUSTERS; $10

These officially licensed cards by Albino Dragon have completely original illustrations. Each card has a different character from the classic ‘80s comedy, including Slimer, Peter Venkman, and Winston Zeddemore.

Find it: Amazon

6. AND 7. CATS AND DOGS; $8 AND $4

Remember lenticular pictures? Now you can get them in playing card form. On one set, there are 52 different felines—and two dog jokers. If you’re more of a dog person, they have some of those too. Just try not to get too distracted moving the cards back and forth.

Find it: Cats, Dogs

8. SOLITAIRE; $14

Enjoy this throwback deck, which features the original artwork for the Windows 3.0 Solitaire game. Designer Susan Kare even designed joker cards just for the deck. The retro cards are the perfect thing to play with in your family’s computer room.

Find it: Amazon

9. MINIMALIST; $10

Designer Joe Doucet aimed to make these cards are simple as possible. Instead of illustrations of the suits, Doucet marked each card with the number and a small icon for the suit. The backs feature a single slash. The cards come in either black or white.

Find it: Areaware, Amazon

10. CMYK; $13

The cards do away with suits in favor of the colors in the CMYK model: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The cards in each color suit are different opacities, which creates a gradient when they're laid out.

Find it: Hundred Million

11. TIM BURTON; $5

This spooky deck of cards comes from the creative mind of Tim Burton. The face cards come with illustrations of characters from Burton’s book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.

Find it: Amazon

12. BACON; $8

Breakfast time is now card playing time. These bacon-themed cards are the perfect thing for the hungry poker players in your life. The face cards feature some royal piggies while the number cards are shown as strips of bacon.

Find it: Amazon

13. FIREFLY; $9

Fans that are still a little sore about the untimely end of Firefly might take some comfort in these officially licensed cards. Artist Ben Mund created illustrations of objects and characters from the show for the cards, which come pre-weathered.

Find it: Amazon

14. ANIMAL KINGDOM; $10

This deck is called "Animal Kingdom" for a reason—the face cards sport some pretty regal looking animals. These cards are also conservation-minded: They're printed on paper from sustainable forests, and for each deck purchased, a dollar will be given to the World Wildlife Fund.

Find it: Amazon

15. PIXELS; $10

These unusual cards are illustrated with pixels that are separated by a transparent grid. You can see through your cards, but your opponents can't see what you’re holding.

Find it: Amazon

16. JANE AUSTEN; $13

Relive all your favorite Austen novels with these playing cards, which feature quotes from the book as well as characters illustrated by Hugh Thomson and Chris Hammond.

Find it: Amazon

17. MADE BY CHILDREN; $12

These adorable playing cards were illustrated by children in Korea. Now you can play with smiling hearts, dinosaurs, and squishy looking spades. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds benefit children in developing countries.

Find it: Art of Play

18. LUMBERJACK; $12

Instead of crowns, deck your face cards in plaid. These lumberjack-inspired playing cards are sure to be a hit with your woodsier friends. Made by Bicycle, the fun cards feature trees, saws, and other lumberjack fixings.

Find it: Art of Play

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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technology
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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