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DIY Halloween Decorations

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I've put together a collection of decoration ideas for your Halloween party, haunted house, or to welcome trick-or-treaters. Sometimes a simple but clever idea can make a great impression, but the elaborate props you put your heart into will be remembered for a long time. All of these come with instructions.

Make your own Cylon Jack-o-Lantern. His eye is an LED that scans back and forth. You can alter the carving slightly to make an LED Dalek, Storm Trooper, or robot.

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You don't have to wear a Halloween costume to get use out of it. Instructables tells you how to build a quick, simple armature using PVC. Then you can make any kind of scary mannequin you like, using clothing and a Halloween mask!

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Scary Terry designed a motion-activated moving skeleton with sound effects to scare passers-by, an effect he calls Skelevision.

The decorations only get more macabre, after the jump.

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If old dried skeletons aren't gory enough for you, you can make one into a Charred Corpse with some foam insulation and paint.

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For an even fresher dead body, create your own Hollywood Gunshot Blood Effect (with video)! Just remember, if you are going to act out a fake murder scene, you might want to give the neighbors a heads-up before they call the SWAT team. See more DIY blood effects at the bottom of the instruction page.

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Aranamuerta has a tutorial on how to create Witch Kitchen Jars, filled with such goodies as Snake Oil, Hob Goblin Brains, and Dragon Embryos. You'll even get tips on making the antique gothic labels. These would be a nice kitchen accent year-round, if you are so inclined.

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Take the jar idea one step further with a homemade Head in a Jar. This is a much simpler illusion than it looks!

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Spooky Glowing Water is a simple but beautiful effect to use in a dark room. The main ingredient is a highlighter! A commenter at the instruction post used glowing water for a spooky fountain and left a picture.

How about a giant moving, spitting spider? The Spider Wiper is horrifying until you see how it works, then it's cool! Instructions are at Village Haunts.

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Printable Papercrafts may seem a little simplistic after the other projects here, but kids would have so much fun with these! It includes the creepy Moving Sculpture Illusion whose eyes seem to follow you around the room.

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But if you have money to burn, a haunted house to furnish, and no time to do it yourself, go for the professional effects from The Scare Factory.

If you try any of these projects, be sure to take plenty of pictures or video. We'd love to read about the results on your website!

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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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