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12 Christmas Cards Sure to Geek Up Your Holiday Spirit

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It might be a little late to order Christmas cards to send out to your friends and family, but you’ve still got plenty of time to enjoy the great art and creativity in some of the geekiest holiday cards out there.

1. Phone Home

This card is not only high tech, but it also just might be the most expensive card out there (at least, the most expensive not adorned in precious jewels). Surprisingly, the price isn’t due to a mark up—this is a DIY card design. The price instead comes from the iPhone nestled inside the card. Sure, you might not want to send one of these to your dentist, but it would be one heck of a way to present an iPhone if you already planned on giving one as a gift anyway.

2. Playing Games

Instructables user bradsprojects created another interactive, tech-based, DIY card, only this one won’t break the bank if you make one for more than a few people. The video game is pretty rudimentary, but any fan of old school games will still appreciate the classic appeal of moving a dot to avoid obstacles.

3. Godzilla's Anatomy

If you love both anatomy and Godzilla, then you’ll certainly appreciate these cards by artist Brad McGinty. Of course, if you prefer great fiction stories, then you’ll love the tale Brad created to help sell these delightful designs:

A few years after my Grandfather returned from the war he decided to start a greeting card company. Armed with one terrible idea and no artistic ability whatsoever, he turned to someone he had met during the war for help, a young Japanese solider he had shot in the face named Haruo. My grandfather spoke no Japanese, and Haruo spoke no English, so how they actually got together is beyond me or anyone else in my family. The idea involved creating American-style greeting cards for both the Japanese and the American markets.

Even if you have no interest in buying the cards, it’s worth reading the rest of the story over at his site.

4. Grumpy Card

Only a few short months ago, Grumpy Cat stole the internet’s heart with her permanently sour scowl. Her owner has since created a website so she can share her cat's delightful expressions with the world. To help support her kitties, she added a shop that included these great Christmas cards. Unfortunately, they’re already sold out, but maybe you die-hard Tard fans will have better luck getting cards with your favorite grumpy kitten next year.

5. It Must Be Italian

It’s rare for a family photo holiday card to end up this amazingly geeky, but Amanda Earles of Candid Moments Studios managed to bring A Christmas Story to life in her fantastic family photo card this year.

6. The Most Beautiful Card in the Room

Any Flight of the Concords fan will recognize the great “present” pun in this card, showing one of the band’s famous meetings. Creator Elliot Quince did such a great job with the card that Rhys Darby, aka Murray Hewitt, even tweeted the card to his followers.

7. Call the Doctor

I don’t know what the Doctor did to this Dalek to get him to serve cocktails, but whatever the plotline behind this Doctor Who Christmas special, I want to know the whole story. If you like the art and humor of these cards, but you aren’t really a Whovian, don’t worry: artist AliciaMB has also created Christmas cards themed after Star Wars, The Avengers, The Hunger Games, and more.

8. Nice Nose

Chewy the Red Nosed Wookie might not be as famous as Rudolph the Reindeer, but he’d do a lot better when it comes to helping you guide a Millennium Falcon across an asteroid belt. Of course, Etsy seller CastleMcQuade has plenty of other geeky holiday cards available for those who aren’t too into Star Wars (including a fantastic It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia design) as well as plenty of other Star Wars Christmas cards.

9. Hoth-Hoth-Hoth

For a more classic holiday card look with a Star Wars twist, look no further than these Hoth-y Holiday cards by Etsy seller Mike Goes Geek that depicts a classic Hoth scene in the iconic Rankin/Bass claymation style.

10. Left 4Christmas

If you simply loved Left 4Dead 2, then share that adoration with those closest to you with these adorable cards designed by artist Alexandria Neonakis and available in the Valve Store.

11. Sea Unicorn

Everyone loves narwhals—after all, they are like unicorns of the sea, and with this great holiday card by Etsy seller castornpollux, you get to see how the rare, majestic creature likes to decorate for Christmas.

12. Venn Out

Is any list of geekery truly complete without a Venn diagram? If you answered “no” with a resounding decisiveness, then you’ll certainly love these Venn diagram cards by Etsy seller BisforBrown that depict “what we wish you” this holiday season.

If you happened to order or send out any geeky holiday cards this year, tell us about them in the comments, or even better, share the pictures with us!

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.


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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]