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Ten Odd and Awesome 2011 Calendars

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Calendars are a popular Christmas gift for friends and relatives who already "have everything", because you need a different calendar every year. And these are certainly different!

1. Toilets of the World

The Toilets of the World Wall Calendar might be just the thing to hang in the bathroom. Every month, you'll get a view of a restroom that's not yours. Some will make you jealous; others will make you grateful for what you have.

2. Heavy Equipment

When buying calendars as gifts, it's nice to have calendar art featuring the object of the recipient's desire. The Heavy Equipment Calendar 2011 could put a smile on the face of a man you know -the one who already has all the power tools he needs and who doesn't have room for his own excavator or front loader.

3. Goats in Trees

I can't think of a better way to start off each month than to see a new goat up in a tree. The 2011 Goats in Trees Calendar has a dozen of them. Or actually more than a dozen, because some months have multiple goats in one tree! Pure delight! Reading the reviews of this product is almost as fun as seeing a goat in a tree.

4. Roadkill

From Australia, beware the 2011 Roadkill Calendar. I don't know exactly who the target buyer for this is, but apparently there is one. The calendar is a side product for a book that helps travelers identify species left dead on the highways of Australia. There's also the Son of Roadkill Calendar for sale in England, and now available on the web.

5. Gold Miffy

The 2011 Gold Miffy Calendar has to be the most expensive calendar of the year (possibly of all time). Japanese jewelry designer Ginza Tanaka will sell the calendar for 55 million yen ($655,765). Made of 6 kilograms of pure gold, the calendar features a picture of a children's book character, a bunny named Miffy, because 2011 is the year of the rabbit. No word on how many were produced, or how many have been sold so far.

6. Zombies

A zombie calendar is fun, but even more fun is one that leaves you with your own zombie invasion at the end of the year! The Build-a-Zombie 2011 Paper Craft Calendar has a project printed on each page that you can cut and fold into a paper craft zombie when the month is over. It also has zombie "facts" and fun on some of the dates.

7. Missionaries

Men on a Mission is a calendar with pictures of former LDS (Mormon) missionaries. Its founder, Chad Hardy, was excommunicated and denied a BYU diploma because of the first such calendar published for 2008. Hardy is featured on the August page of the new calendar, which is a Brigham Young University alumnus edition.

8. Surfing Dogs

Every month you can see a different dog hanging ten -or however many toes dogs hang- with the Surf Dogs calendar. Proceeds from the sale of calendars go to 18 different organizations to benefit animals and children in need.

9. Cat Physics

You probably have seen the list of the Laws of Cat Physics somewhere on the internet, if not many years ago on your workplace bulletin board. Some jokes never get old. Now you can get those laws on a calendar from the "Institute of Theoretical & Applied Cat Physics", because the regular laws of physics do not apply to cats.

10. Hooters Calendar

The Hooters calendar is a tradition that goes back quite a few years. For 2011, the manufacturer is donating the net proceeds to O.W.L. (the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society) to help owls and other wild birds. Surely you know someone who will get excited over the very idea of a Hooters calendar! Available in both paper calendar and pdf file. This image is from the 2010 calendar.

Coming Thursday: MORE strange 2011 calendars.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]