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Boo-reaucrats: 8 Presidential Families—And Pets!—Dressed Up for Halloween

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Politicians have to dress the part. Before public appearances, they meet with image consultants to ensure that they're wearing the perfect power tie and accessorizing with American flag memorabilia that's noticeable without being ostentatious. But what might impress the average American even more than a tailored suit? An awesome Halloween costume. Hollywood celebrities aren't the only famous people who get dressed up on October 31. Sometimes politicians don wigs, makeup, and weird clothes to get their Frankenstein on. We bet they're pretty good at campaigning for candy, too. Plus, check out the festive pets that rub elbows—err, paws—with some very powerful political figures.

1. B-Arrrr-ack Obama

Long before the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), President Barack Obama was an old-school pirate. Lots of Halloween costumes are scary, but yes we can also appreciate one that's just plain adorable.

2. Halloween Obama-Rama


First Lady Michelle Obama changed into leopard spots at a 2009 Alice in Wonderland-themed Halloween event for the children of White House staff members and military families. Sasha wore a red gown, while big sister Malia cleverly dressed up as the Morton salt girl. Meanwhile, President Obama could've been anyone's dad in a sweater and oxford shirt.

3. Mr. and Mrs. President as Mr. and Mrs. President


Photo Courtesy of Our Presidents.

Bill and Hillary are an easy go-to couples costume—you can find vinyl masks of both of them at most Halloween stores. But the power couple channeled another president and first lady at the White House Halloween party in 1993. If you thought the Clinton White House was exciting, consider what fourth president James Madison and his wife Dolley went through. During the War of 1812 (which actually lasted from 1812-1815), the British invaded Washington and set fire to various government buildings, including the White House, United States Treasury, and U.S. Capitol. Fortunately, Dolley rescued original drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the blaze.

4. Al Gore's Fuzzy Mask

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Should we blame it on global warming ... or the full moon? Former Vice-President Al Gore and then-wife Tipper were dressed to the canines at their 1997 Halloween party. But with a last name like Gore, we expected no less. (They've also dressed up as Beauty and the Beast, mummies, and Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred.)

5. Scare-a-lot

The White House is probably one of the best places to go trick or treating, provided that the current health-focused administration hasn't completely phased out the candy. Back in 1963, John, Jr. and Caroline Kennedy made the rounds all the way to the Oval Office. Their dad's costume: most photogenic POTUS ever.

6. Bo(o) Obama

There's nothing scary about First Dog Bo Obama. His owners have joked that the four-legged fluffball is even more charismatic than the president. Still, Bo enjoys his privacy. This superhero doppelganger is only a statue that's decorated for each holiday at the White House.

7. Cowboy Dog-plomacy

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Former First Dog Barney wasn't a favorite White House pet. The Scottish terrier got a lot of bad press, perhaps because he had a tendency to bite members of the media. Karl Rove called Barney "a lump," and Vladimir Putin said he was too small to befit a world leader. But his owners, former President George W. and Laura Bush, just think he's a loner cowboy—and dressed him accordingly in 2007. (India and Miss Beazley are dressed up as a wizard and a strawberry, respectively.)

8. May The Snark Be With You

Some critics of former Vice President Dick Cheney have called him "the Darth Vader of the Bush administration," a distinction he eventually embraced. In 2007, Cheney even dressed his black Labrador retriever Jackson as the Sith Lord. His other Lab, Dave, served as a heroic foil in a Superman costume.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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