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15 Snowmen You Wish You'd Made

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It's time for snowmen! And snow women, and animals, and pop culture icons ...anything you can make out of snow. My daughter packed five-gallon buckets of snow to make a sort-of robot-shaped snowman this past weekend. Those who have more snow, more time, and a dose of imagination have made some startlingly wondrous creations. For this list, I avoided most professional snow sculptures, x-rated images, and offensive snowmen. What's left is a delightful roundup of winter creativity!

1. Super Heroes

Matthew Connor fashioned a Spider-Man snowman, plastered against a wall, of course! He also built a replica of Iron Man out of snow, inspired by his 5-year-old son who is a comic book fan. See pictures of both at Comics Alliance.

2. Snow Cats

Fans of Simon's Cat will certainly recognize this snow sculpture! It's part of a cat snow sculpture roundup that includes Longcat, Garfield, and others.

3. Snow Dino

This "Snowodon" stands out against the snow background thanks to sprayed-on color. Lupiloops built it for her child's birthday, along with a dinosaur-shaped cake.

4. Fire-breathing Snowman

Nick and Anna Berte of Bel Air, Maryland built a giant snowman and rigged it with a flamethrower inside! They had nothing to fear from snowman vandals last winter.

5. Snow Dalek

Doctor Who fan Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy Blog built this Dalek out of snow last year. See more views in the Flickr set.

6. Snow Mob

This crowd of snowmen gathered in 2008 for the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan. Sure, they are small, but there's strength in numbers! Image by Flickr user Christopher Chan.

7. Snomo-kun

When you make a Domo-kun out of snow, he becomes Snomo-kun! See a closer view here. Image by Flickr user Joel Carranza.

8. Master Chief

Some Halo fan built this Master Chief snowman in 2007 (or earlier) and then sometime afterward deleted his/her Facebook account.

9. Chillin' at the Park

From Sweden, where they really understand snow, here are three characters using a public park as if it were summer. Image by Flickr user Jimmy Fink.

10. Moomin

Moomins are characters from a series of Swedish books, well known in Europe and lovingly recreated here in snow, with orange peel eyes! Image by Flickr user poppet with a camera.

11. All Tied Up

A scene from Gulliver's Travels is recreated in this snow snow scene. Image by Flickr user mpburrows.

12. Snowman Party

Scott and Diane Miller of New Jersey took advantage of deep snow on their deck in 2003 to lighten the mood with a snowman party, complete with beer and poker!

13. Grieving Family

The most creative and subversive snowmen of all were those depicted in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's snowmen didn't just stand there smiling. He made snow tableaux that told stories, usually of murder and mayhem that made us laugh anyway. Ever since they were first published, people have frozen their hands recreating them from real snow. This set is called The Grieving Family. See more such scenes in the Flickr pool Calvin & Hobbes in Real Life. Image by Flickr user Hyperleggera.

14. Suicidal Snowman

This suicidal snowman was inspired by a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which the punch line was his father saying, "You have to admit it's slowed down the traffic on our road." See quite a few more recreations of Calvin & Hobbes snowmen at Web Urbanist. And enjoy the comic strips they came from.

15. Bloody Mess

Update: These lovely snow people were inspired by animator Don Hertzfeldt.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]