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18 Independent Artists at Comic Con 2012

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Back in 2010, we introduced you to some of the many talented artists at the San Diego Comic Con. So how have things changed in the last two years? For one thing, there are even more talented artists setting up shop at the convention these days. Here are a few of the many amazing artists at the convention.

Jackie Huang of Wool Buddy

While crafting has become more common at the convention throughout the last few years, felting is still a bit more obscure than most varieties of needlework and still hadn't made its mark at Comic Con. That's why I was so happy to see Wool Buddy's booth. As if the adorable creatures weren't cute enough on their own, you could even buy a felting starter kit and artist Jackie Huang couldn't be happier to show viewers how to create masterpieces of their own. He even made an adorable Lorax right in front of me.

Martin Hsu of Crakens

Plushies and tee shirts are pretty big sellers at the convention, but handmade plushies are an entirely different story. Martin Hsu's Puffer Puss toy from his Craken line was one of the cutest designs at the convention and the fact that it was 100% handmade and limited to only 50 creations made it totally worth the $65 price tag. If you happen to like the Crabby Bear shirt in the bottom left, you might want to stop by their shop in a month or so as Martin informed me that he will be the next plush produced by the company.

Diana Sprinkle

Not only does Diana Sprinkle have a fantastic name, she also had some delightful artwork and merchandise. Anyone who happens to love Star Trek puns would particularly like her Beam Me Up shirt with a picture of a scottish terrier in a Star Trek shirt -- you can just barely see it there in the top left.

Shing Khor of Sawdust Press

When it comes to adorable, yet somehow slightly unnerving, sculptures, Shing Khor of Sawdust Press definitely was the best newcomer to the Comic Con scene. Her bizarre creations have such vivid facial expressions and bright colors that they made it almost impossible to walk by her booth without stopping to take a look.

David Petersen of Mouse Guard

If you enjoy fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings and adorable drawings of mice in people clothes, then you'll certainly appreciate David Petersen's Mouse Guard. I started reading the Black Axe series a while back and I have to say, they are great. I can't wait to get my hands on the final installment.

Jermaine Rogers

While Comic Con and rock and roll might not seem like a match made in heaven, it's important to remember that music geeks are still geeks. That's why rock poster artists like Jermaine Rogers always do pretty well at the convention. While there were a number of rock artists at the convention, Jermaine was my favorite, both because he has mastered an amazing variety of styles and because he used his David Bowie bunny for his sign.

Dave Pryor

Dave Pryor's art is delightful in that it reflects the artist's fun and geeky sense of humor. From his "Bacon for President" to his "Kermit the Gorf," his artwork is sure to resonate with at least one of your interests -- especially if you're the kind of person who enjoys Mental Floss.

Agnes Garbowska

If you're a proponent of the idea that everything is cute when it is made smaller, then you will no doubt enjoy the adorable artwork of Agnes Garbowska. While Agnes has many of her own characters and comics, I personally love her toddler versions of classic comic book characters like those you can see on her table here.

Dane Ault of Monkey Minion Press

Dane Ault's Monkey Minion Press creations are great reminders that pop-culture-inspired pop art should be bright, simple, immediately-recognizable and geeky as heck. Best of all, they sell geek greeting cards, so even if you don't have the space or cash for an art print, you can always get a great card for one of your friends.

Freddy Scribbles of Daydreams & Giggles

As I said before, handmade plushies are always a special treat, and it's even more impressive when you can see the toys being made right in front of your eyes like Freddy Scribbles of Daydreams & Giggles was doing. While she had some really cool prints, her "cubies" plushies were definitely her most popular item at the convention. Of course, with creations this geeky, cute and unique, are you really surprised that they were flying off the shelves?

Brandon Bracamonte and Jonathon Weiss of The Mustache Ride

Yes, the name of the comic is a little dirty, but I promise you that The Mustache Ride, by Brandon Bracamonte and Jonathon Weiss, is not an adult comic -- at least not in that sense. Here's the story:

Deep in the future, where society has risen and fallen many times. ‘Marucs Elroi’ and his Donkey, ‘Kong’ set off on an epic quest for revenge through a western wasteland, where the bigger the mustache the badder the bandido!

See, it's actually about mustachioed horse riders -- and the art is simply fantastic, so that always helps.

Tara Magboo of Adorable Mayhem

Tara Magboo's Adorable Mayhem creations certainly live up to their name between her wonderful jewelry designs and her entertaining glass and metal dioramas that take place inside of unassuming bell jars, like the one below.

John and Shelley Loter

John and Shelley Loter are previous Disney employees who met at the studio, got married and eventually started their own business together -- Loter Entertainment Studio. Their tee shirt and postcard designs are simply delightful, full of the kind of whimsy you would expect to see from two ex-Disney artists.

Patrick Morgan of Whaleboy

While many artists come and go at Comic Con, Patrick Morgan has been a long-time exhibitor at the convention and is widely known for his adorable Whaleboy drawings and vinyl figures -- although he creates plenty of other characters as well, has even released a number of books, and is one of the staff members on Nickelodeon's Fanboy and Chum Chum.

Valerie Hochberg

Valerie Morgan is a fantastic manga-style artist with two online comics, Kick-Girl and Mystery Babylon. Valerie's biggest sellers at the convention though weren't related to her comics, but instead were these adorable prints of some of geek culture's favorite characters.

Roger Barr and Pestoforce of I-Mockery

I-Mockery is a fun site loaded with editorial content, comics and video games, but it's the video games, mostly created by owner Roger Barr, that really earned them a place on this list of artists. In fact, the company even spent all of their marketing budget to make an arcade version of their online flash game Abobo's Big Adventure. Given that the game was in use during the entire convention, I'd say that was a pretty good investment that kept people coming back to their booth. If you're big on classic NES games, then you'll probably fall in love with their games the second you start playing them.

I know some of you Flossers made it out to Comic Con as well, so if you think I left any good artists off this list, tell the world about them in the comments. And for more fun sights from around the convention, don't miss this post on my website, Rue the Day.

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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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