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Wedding Registries That Don't Include Gravy Boats

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Wedding season is in full swing, so chances are you'll be scouring a registry or two in search of the perfect gift over the course of the next few months. While most couples register for the fairly mundane "starting a home together" items like linens, dishes, and flatware, these certainly aren't the only options available for brides and grooms. Many couples who have been living on their own for a while are pretty well stocked for housewares by the time the big day rolls around, so instead of hitting Bed Bath & Beyond with a scanning gun, they take a more offbeat approach to their gift requests. Here are a few options you might not have seen before:

Charitable Donations

Perhaps the most extreme version of "Please, don't give me another spatula!" involves eschewing gifts altogether in favor of charitable donations. After all, if people are already prepared to open their wallets and fork out some dough in honor of your nuptials, why not put the cash where it can do some good? A number of groups, like the I Do Foundation and JustGive.org, allow couples to register for easy charitable donations through their websites. Wedding guests just have to provide their credit card number and the amount of their donation. Best of all for the givers, the donations are tax deductible; let's see a china place setting that can do that.

If you need to bag some merchandise from your wedding but still want to be charitable, there's a solution for that, too. A number of stores will take a percentage from each purchase made off of your registry and donate it to the charity of your choice.

Your House

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There's no sense in registering for a bunch of stuff to fill your house when you can't afford a place to live. Since a wedding can cost as much as the down payment on nice new digs, why not just register for the house itself? Lots of couples are doing just that; they request donations to a house-down-payment fund in lieu of more traditional gifts. Sites like mydreamhomeregistry.com ("Because You Don't Need Another Blender!") allow friends and family to give gifts of money earmarked for a house down payment. When the couple finds a house they want to buy, the site transfers the cash from a savings account over to the home purchase.

What if you've already got a house you'd like to spruce up? The registries have thought of that, too. The same site lets people register for renovations and remodeling; couples can put up a plan of what they want to change in the house, then receive gifts to help cover the costs of paint, carpentry, etc.

Your Honeymoon

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This option's been around for a few years now, but it still seems like a terrific idea. After you've sunk all of your funds into a blowout wedding, it can be tough to scrape together enough cash to take a nice honeymoon. Luckily, the registry industry thought of this potential snag and now allows for well-wishers to contribute to part of couples' honeymoons. Want to go snorkeling on your getaway? Terrific, your great aunt can foot the bill if she wants. There are dozens of websites devoted to honeymoon registries, so if you've got a hankering to do something special on your first trip as a married couple, you can probably find a way to get it financed. [Wedding cake topper image courtesy of Flickr user pauline@weddingtreasures.]

What about you, dear readers? What offbeat wedding gifts did you receive (or give)?

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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