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Our Readers' Best Halloween Costumes

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At the beginning of the month, we asked for photos of your best Halloween costumes — the geeky ones, the nerdy ones, the ones of which you're particularly proud. After sifting through all the e-mails, we're proud to present our readers' best Halloween costumes. Enjoy!

(40 photos is a lot for one post, so we've paginated it as a courtesy to those of you with slower internet connections.)

Sheila S. (second from left) and friends, who know that a "group costume is infinitely more fun," spent one Halloween as Odlaw, Wizard Whitebeard, Wenda, Woof, and—of course—Waldo (Wally). "Costumes were complete with accessories (scroll, binoculars, cane, etc.), and Woof even had a personalized dog tag reading 'If found please return to Waldo'."




Amanda M. and her boyfriend dressed up as Jamie and Adam from MythBusters.


Reader Jessica V., at left, knows how to turn lemons into lemonade: "I'm going through chemo right now which means I don't have any hair, so I figured what better time to rock a Borg costume?" We couldn't agree more, Jessica. At right is reader Jen B., who made her great Stargate Jaffa Serpent Guard costume from cardboard.



At left, reader Meg B. as Edward Scissorhands. At right, reader Jason B. as his interpretation of Lady GaGa based on her song "Poker Face."



Two instantly recognizable TV characters: reader Anneke M. as Carmen Sandiego and reader Robert H. as Mr. Rogers. Anneke discovered that her classmates at BYU are quite the geography fans: "I had people screaming they'd "found" me everywhere I went."

Both Kerri (left) and Molly U. (right) invested some serious time into their home-made costumes.


For her Luna Lovegood costume, Kerri made the necklace, earrings, scarf, wand, glasses, and robe.


Molly made her entire Zelda costume from scratch, including the hand-painted tapestry hanging on the front.


Stephanie S. has dressed up as Agent Scully, E.T. (complete with bag of Reese's Pieces), and, breaking away from the alien-theme, Marge Simpson, although she says many people mistook her for Thing 1: "I think the hair is too bright of a blue."



The Rodgers family got creative with cardboard boxes: mom Sara dressed up as the TARDIS, kids Oliver and Landon were the Transformers Starscream and Megatron (that transformed "weakly, but still awesome when they used the right noises!"), and dad Mike was a red LEGO brick.

Landon has also dressed up as Dr. Horrible, "with FREEZE RAY!", as seen below left.

Reader Chris S. and family, above right, dressed as The Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Batgirl this year. All 3 costumes were home made.


Reader Betsy's 12-year-old daughter won't have any trouble trick-or-treating in the dark!



In 1988, "totally nerdy" reader Brian M. went trick-or-treating as Michael Dukakis, accompanied by a blow-up Ronald Reagan.



Shana C. as (a female) Alex from A Clockwork Orange.


Reader Jennifer W. dressed her 2-year-old twin boys in homemade Mario and Luigi costumes, because "Good Nerd Parents Raise Good Nerd Babies."


Robyn's stepson and his father have matching homemade Mario costumes for this year, accompanied by an 8-months-pregnant Robyn as Boo.




Our last Mario-inspired costume: Reader Augustus F. and his grandson teamed up as (big) Mario and (little) Luigi for Halloween this year.


Reader Lilly, at left, spent last Halloween as Firefox; she's repeating the costume this year but "expanding her search engine entourage." Reader Miranda O., at right, dressed as the Prince(ss) from Katamari; she brought along the booklet to explain her costume.



At left: Reader and law student Annie G. dressed as a LOLcat. At right: Reader Venus M. as an awkward turtle.



Tracie S. submitted this photo taken at the Halloween party held at her husband's independent game store; this guest was dressed as the "Nyan Cat."


Kimberly W. is going as SNL's Land Shark skit this year: "I'm the door. And when someone comes near my door I knock on it. They say "Who's there?" If I say "Landshark", I turn around and there's a picture of a landshark on one side, with "Trick or Treat?!" on the sides. If I say "CandyGram", I give them a piece of candy through the mail slot."



The daughters of reader Kathie R., Anna (5) and Liz (9), are trick-or-treating as Darth Vader and Princess Leia tonight, making Kathie one "proud mama right now!"



Continuing the Star Wars theme is Rohr Chamberlain in costumes made by his dad, Alex. This year they're doing Halo armor.



At left is reader Lisa K. as Beaker, holding the "severed head of Bunsen." At right, Lisa is dressed as Bender, accompanied by her boyfriend dressed as Dr. Zoidberg.



On the left: Kyla S., who won her work costume contest with her wedding cake costume. On the right: Jennifer W. (a different reader than the previously mentioned Jennifer W.), who used an Athena costume and a hand-drawn scale to dress as Lady Justice.




The very first photo we received was from Cassidy N., who built a mock-up of the Iron Man arc reactor and then "gave [him]self the hostage treatment from the beginning of the first Iron Man movie."

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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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