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20 Self-Deprecating Notes on Vintage Photos

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UPDATE: Ransom Riggs has turned his found photos series into a book! You can order your copy here.

I started collecting found snapshots a few years ago -- at swap meets, antique shops and the like -- but the thing that got me started wasn't the photos themselves so much as the writing I'd sometimes find on the backs. When you're looking through bins of unsorted photos, every thirtieth one or so will have some writing on it. It's generally just identifying information ("me and Jerry at the Grand Canyon, 1947"), but sometimes you find really funny, revealing, emotional, surprising notes that transform the photo from something usual and kind of anonymous into something amazing and really personal. I'm putting together a book of my finds called Voices from the Other Side, but I figured I'd share some with our readers as well just to see what everyone thinks. (I posted another small batch -- of wartime photos -- back on July 4th.)

One thing I've found a lot of is photos where people have written deprecating things -- usually about themselves -- on the back. "I look so fat here!" is a shockingly common theme; I guess people were as concerned with their weight (and as self-conscious about pictures of themselves) fifty and sixty years ago as they are today. I want to share some of these with you, not so much to laugh at (although they are funny) but to demonstrate how little our attitudes about ourselves have changed over the years. I'll start with one that I think pretty much sums it up:

When there are two people in the frame, like in the picture above, you have to wonder which of them hated the picture enough to write on it.


My shadow isn't too bad to look at. Ha!


These are hideous of Emmet & me. Wish I were as photogenic as the dog.

Why doesn't anyone call their nose a "beak" anymore? I'm going to bring it back.

I'm not as fat as I look here, it's the terrycloth pajamas over my bathing skirt plus wind.
(I love the background here -- back the 20s there was really only one kind of car you could buy, so that's what everyone had!)

A good ad for Ovaltine. See how fat I'm getting?

(Ovaltine ads, you may or may not remember, featured a lot of chubby-cute children. And just for the record, I don't see at all how fat she's getting. These people would've been shocked -- shocked! -- to see the size of our waistlines today.)

I just have to quit eating and work hard.

Sheesh ... ladies, you look fine!

I can't imagine ol "pigs guts" wrote this on his own picture -- but you never know. Then again, I have a feeling that the lady in the next picture did write her caption.

There are also lots of pictures out there of people eating, with things like "me with my mouth full -- AS USUAL" written on the back. Like this one:

This one's so sad and plain it's almost heartbreaking:

Don't feel bad, lady -- passport photos never look good:

I can't tell if this guy is making a face or he really looks like this:

Some people just have trouble posing:

We've all felt this way from time to time:

This last one is amazing -- I've never seen anyone go to such lengths to hide their face in a picture.

FRONT: I came out terrible so I put ink on my face and scratched it off.

BACK: This one came out terrible don't show it to any one.

UPDATE: Ransom Riggs has turned his Talking Pictures series into a book! You can order your copy here.

See Also...

Amazing Found Photos of Life During Wartime
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More Found Photos: People in Trouble
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Strange Geographies: The Mojave Desert's Airplane Graveyard

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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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