CLOSE
Original image

11 Alternative Ways to Learn Your ABCs

Original image

Most teachers use the typical associations to teach the alphabet: A is for apple, B is for bear, C is for cat, and so on. (Z is usually Zebra.) But if you prefer walking off the beaten path, there is a wealth of alternative alphabets available to teach your children the ABCs.

1. The Hidden Alphabet by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

In her lift-the-flap picture book (and book trailer, above), Seeger not only uses less traditional associations, but she also hides the items within the shapes of the letters. A is for Arrowhead, the triangle in the A; P is for Partridge, the hollow in the P; and Q is for Quotation Mark, the center of the Q.

2. The Muppet Alphabet by Mike Boon


Boon, a graphic designer, created an alphabet in which the letters are formed from The Muppet Show characters. B is for Bunsen and Beaker, F is for Fozzie, and X is for Xomfey (a "Pink Stalk" from the show's pilot episode, "Sex and Violence"). You can purchase a T-shirt (from Threadless) or a poster (mini through gallery size at society6) featuring the alphabet.

3. SuperHero ABC by Bob McLeod



As an illustrator and artist for both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, McLeod has his fair share of experience with superheroes. His children's picture book, SuperHero ABC, was named one of School Library Journal's "Best Books of the Year." It features Astro-Man, who's "always alert for an alien attack;" Bubble-Man, who "blows big bubbles at bullies" (as well as being a bald man who wears boots); and The Volcano, who "vomits on villains." His web site features SuperHero ABC activity pages as well as links to purchase T-shirts, posters, and other related merch.

4. The Alphabet of Geekdom by Nana Leonti


The "geekdom" alphabet by artist Nana Leonti features letters from the logos of popular geek brands/franchises, which Leonti hand-drew. M is for Magic: The Gathering, V is for V for Vendetta, and W is for Wonder Woman. You can purchase T-shirts and prints through redbubble.

5. The ABCs of Rock by Melissa Duke Mooney and Print Mafia



If you're too cool for the Alphabet of Geekdom, perhaps The ABCs of Rock is more your style. When Mooney, whose husband is in a band, couldn't find a suitable rock 'n' roll alphabet book for her daughters, she decided to create one herself. Near the end of the process, Mooney passed away unexpectedly from meningitis, but her husband and others finished the project in her honor. Associations from the rockin' picture book include B for Bowie (David, that is), F for Fleetwood Mac, and W for White Stripes.

6. The Official Fart Alphabet by Ralph Masiello and Stephanie Brockway


Masiello and Brockway's fart-centric alphabet features such gems as "Left Cheek Squeak," "Noxious," and "Silent But Deadly," and the letters are green gassy clouds.

7. Nerdy Baby ABCs by Tiffany Ard


The Nerdy Baby ABC flash cards feature associations such as A for Atom, B for Binary Code, and C for Cell Membrane, all beautifully drawn by children's artist Tiffany Ard. You can pick up a set in the mental_floss store.

8. My Foodie ABC by Puck and Violet Lemay



Puck's board book for "gastronomes in training" teaches both the alphabet as well as the foodie terms, with pronunciation guides and descriptions for all the terms and colorful illustrations by Lemay. P is for Pomegranate, Q is for Quinoa, and R is for Radicchio.

9. A is for Ackbar by Emma & Brandon Peat


The Peats initially designed this Star Wars-themed alphabet as wall hangings for their baby's bedroom. They later printed it up in book form to show family members and distribute as a thank you to those who contributed to their baby's college fund. Now, it just lives on Brandon's web site. C is for Chewie and C-3PO, E is for Ewoks, and L is for Luke and Leia. (There's also an official Star Wars ABC board book, but it's not nearly as adorable.)

10. The Alphabet 2 by n9ve

Independent design studio n9ve created this alphabet video experiment in which each letter visually represents the meaning of its word. B is a B-shaped biscuit, C is for Cell Animation, and the D, which explodes, is for Destruction. Check out their behind-the-scenes photos from the shoot, as well as their first alphabet video, in which each letter correlates to a font.

11. XYZ Blocks by Christian Northeast



These fun wooden alphabet blocks from Fred are "the alternative to ABC," with non-boring associations like K for Karate, T for Trailer, and U for Underpants. You can pick up a set in the mental_floss store.

11 alternative alphabets not enough for you? Don't worry, we're not stopping the fun. Head over to our "Alternative ABCs" board on Pinterest for more alphabety goodness. And if you've seen a good one, let us know in the comments and we'll add it to the board.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES