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Erin McCarthy

8 SXSwag Items from the Film and Interactive Conferences

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Erin McCarthy

The first few days of SXSW are all about attending panels that will make you think, and seeing films that make you laugh, cry, and shriek from fear. But another huge part of the festival is waiting in line, roaming the exhibit halls, and going to parties where people hand out swag that is sometimes useful, sometimes useless, sometimes wonderful, and sometimes weird, all creatively designed to get your attention. Here, the superlatives of the stuff that made it back to NYC in my suitcase.

1. Most Ubiquitous: SXSW Festival Bags

Each year, SXSW commissions artists to design bags for the festival’s badgeholders. Interactive, film, and music each have their own bags; because I had a gold badge, I nabbed film (above), which was designed by Jay Ryan, and interactive (below), which was designed by Jessica Hagy. Fun fact: In 1998, South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone designed the interactive bags!

2. Weirdest: Vampire Diaries 3D Ian Somerhalder T-Shirt

At a party for the CW network, my friends and I put on costumes and posed as supervillains Admiral Joe, Naughty Frostbite, and Horrible Q-7000 (me!) respectively:

We also got custom screen-printed Vampire Diaries t-shirts. But the weirdest piece of swag I picked up was a large tee with Ian Somerhalder’s face printed on it in anaglyph 3D. They were on a table in front of a huge anaglyph 3D painting of the actor, who was also there, in the flesh, standing next to the portrait. It was pretty surreal all around.

3. Most Blasphemous: This Record Sleeve

I don’t remember Johnny Cash looking quite like this. I picked this up at the CW party; it’s a real record, and a promotion for 99 Tigers. Slogan: "Rock Your Brand."

4. Most Nostalgic: National Geographic Channel Slap Bracelet

Ladies dressed in the finest ‘80s fashions—leg warmers, sweat bands, and so much neon—handed these out while I was waiting in line for Much Ado About Nothing. I immediately slapped it on, because slap bracelets are still cool.

5. Biggest “Um, What?!??”: Underwear

Behold the underwear I picked up in the press room, a gift from GoToMeeting. One size fits all. (Also given away: Anaglyph 3D glasses, pens, huge dog treats.) Thanks?

6. Best Photobooth: The Iron Throne

Nearly every party has a photobooth, but I got my favorite snapshot souvenir in the convention center next to the Vimeo theater. Watch out, Lannisters—I’m no Targaryen, but I’m coming for the Iron Throne!

7. Best Investment: Moon Property

After I interviewed the filmmakers behind Lunarcy!, they were nice enough to give me the deed to the first parcel of land I’ve ever owned: one acre on the Moon. Now all I need to do is figure out how to get there, and I’ll have a nice little vacation spot.

8. Coolest Drinking-Related Accessory: Space Camp Coozy

After I snapped a picture with TOPPS, a person in a giant inflatable astronaut suit, I nabbed one of these cool coozies, which I plan to use on everything it will fit on.

Which one of these pieces of swag would you want, and why?

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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]