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Parade Time in New Orleans

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New Orleans has dozens of parades during Carnival season, culminating in the biggest day of celebration today for Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Most of these parades are staged by traditional social organizations, also known as "Krewes." Here are just a few of the many Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, in chronological order.

Krewe du Vieux

The Krewe du Vieux was founded in 1987 as a combination of various sub-krewes that had split from the Krewe of the Clones. The history of this parade is worth a detour to read.

...the Krewe grew from about 150 drunks stumbling through the French Quarter in search of a bar, to become a relatively well-organized group of about 600 (most of them still drunk), with an actual parade route.

The Krew du Vieux parade was held February 3rd with the theme "Habitat for Insanity." Watch a video of this year's parade.

Krewe of Barkus

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The Krewe of Barkus is limited to dogs, and their parade February 11th is the only parade dogs can participate in. Proceeds from the parade and the ball afterwards go to animal charities. Watch a video of this year's Barkus parade.

Knights of Babylon

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The Knights of Babylon held their parade February 15th. The historical theme is kept secret until the parade every year, and the identity of the Sargon (parade king) is never revealed at all. This year's theme was "1421 -The Chinese Expeditions."

Krewe of Endymion

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The Krewe of Endymion parade is held the Saturday before Mardi Gras. Endymion is a relatively new krewe, staging its first parade in 1967. This parade is known for contemporary music, huge floats, elaborate costumes, and a king and queen selected by a drawing!

Krewe of Bacchus

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The Krewe of Bacchus was founded in 1968 with the express purpose of revitalizing Carnival in New Orleans. Bacchus membership is open to anyone, including tourists! The parade was Sunday, featuring James Gandolfini as King Bacchus the XXXIX. See a portion of the Endymion and Bacchius parades from 2006 on video.

Krewe of Proteus

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The Krewe of Proteus was organized in 1882, and is now the oldest parading krewe in New Orleans. When segregated krewes were ordered to stop participating in parades, Proteus dropped out, but returned to parading in 2000. Their parade was last night, on Lundi Gras (Fat Monday).

Krewe of Orpheus

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The Krewe of Orpheus was founded in 1993 by Harry Connick Jr., his father, Harry Connick, Sr., and Sonny Borey. The music-themed parade parade was last night, with Patricia Clarkson as the celebrity monarch.

The Zulu Aid and Social Pleasure Club

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The Zulu Aid and Social Pleasure Club first participated in a parade in 1901, but didn't take the Zulu name til 1909. They still wear their traditional (and controversial) blackface and grass skirts, and pass out coveted Golden Coconuts to the crowds. The Zulu parade is the first big parade in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday morning. Watch a video of the 2006 Zulu Parade.

The School of Design (The Rex Organization)

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Rex is the king of the carnival! The Rex Parade (New Orleans largest) has been part of Mardi Gras since 1872, and takes place on Tuesday morning. The Rex (king) is a prominent citizen selected a year in advance, but he must keep his identity secret until the day before the parade. The mayor of New Orleans traditionally hands the key to the city over to Rex for Mardi Gras.

See more parade photographs here. Many of the fantastic parade floats are manufacured at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Enjoy your Fat Tuesday!

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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