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10 Strange and Wonderful 2012 Calendars

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If you're going to look at the same thing every day for an entire year, you should make it something attractive, meaningful, or worth a laugh. This applies to roommates, significant others, or calendars. Last year's roundup of calendars was so popular, we ended up with a second edition compiled from your suggestions. There are at least as many fascinating calendars offered this year. Here are a few strange and interesting calendars for 2012.

1. The Mutter Museum Calendar

The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is famous for its strange medical collection, which includes bones, anatomical specimens, plaster casts, things preserved in jars, and a huge collection of items that were swallowed or inhaled. They even have Einstein's brain! You can have your own museum tour with their 2012 calendar featuring pictures of the Mutter Museum's most popular and interesting exhibits.

2. Extraordinary Chickens

The 2012 Extraordinary Chicken Calendar features 25 pictures of exotic chicken breeds by photographer Stephen Green-Armytage for those who really love chickens. This is the ninth year this calendar has been offered, with different breeds included every year.

3. The Naked Archaeologist Calendar

For the fourth year now, various archaeologists from "RUINED" (Reading University Archaeology Society) bared themselves to raise funds for the Silchester Excavation Project. The photos are set in excavation sites all over the world. You can order yours for £8.00 through eBay.

4. Heather’s L’il 2012 Country Calendar

Heather McAdams drew not only the monthly pictures but also the calendars themselves for her L’il 2012 Country Calendar. The art focuses on, but is not limited to, country music. The calendar is packed with trivia and birthdays for each day, and more drawings as well.

5. Passive-Aggresive Notes Calendar

The website Passive-Aggresive Notes posts just that every day. Some of the best, well, 366 of them (2012 is leap year) are in the 2012 Passive-Aggresive Notes Calendar, which is a page-a-day calendar available online and in a bookstore near you.

6. Hot Guys and Baby Animals

The folks at Hot Guys and Baby Animals had great luck with their 2011 calendar (which we featured last year), so they've got a new one for 2012. You can watch how they got the shots in a series of behind-the-scenes videos. I can't decide which is cuter, but both the guys and the animals are easy on the eyes.

7. Roman Priest Calendar

The Calendario Romano 2012 is advertised as a souvenir of Rome with information about the Vatican for those who aren't in the know. But from what I see, only very attractive young priests get their photo in this calendar. In other words, they're hot. They are already looking for priests to star in the 2013 version.

8. The Girls of Ryan Air Cabin Crew Charity Calendar

Ryan Air, the airline famous for no-frills flights (now considering removing toilets from planes to add more seats), is selling a calendar featuring scantily-clad flight attendants and other employees. The proceeds go to benefit DebRA, an organization that helps families of children suffering from epidermolysis bullosa.

9. Chemists and Scientist's Calendar 2012

Artist Aurora Cacciapuoti designed this one-page poster calendar for 2012 featuring a scientist with a beaker for every month. Get yours through her Etsy shop Nekocherry. Two sizes are available.

10. 6 Packs 9 Lives Calendar

What do you want to look at all year long, adorable kittens or hunky men? You don't have to choose with with 6 Packs 9 Lives Calendar, which combines both in each picture. Proceeds go to help animal shelters and promote cat adoption. Shown here is Dave and his cat Ginger, who grace the October page.

In addition, you might be able to find 2012 editions of the calendars featured in our previous lists, Ten Odd and Awesome 2011 Calendars and Ten More Odd 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]