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Charm City Cakes

12 Great Wizarding Cakes for Harry Potter’s Birthday

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Charm City Cakes

Did you know Wednesday was Harry Potter’s birthday? To celebrate, here are some of the finest cakes inspired by the famous J.K. Rowling series.

1. No One Should Eat the Forbidden Forrest

While there are plenty of Hogwarts cakes out there, most of them only include the castle. Charly’s Bakery went above and beyond by including the grounds of the school, including the whomping willow, Hagrid’s hut and the Forbidden Forrest. They also included all of the Horcruxes.

2. Getting Some Perspective

Tastycakes’ take on Hogwarts is impressive not only because of its size, but also because it really captures the layout of the grounds. The cake features the staircase first year students take when they get off their boats, Hagrid’s hut, and the start of the Forbidden Forrest behind his shack. And while the cake is massive, it has all kinds of tiny details that make it truly incredible.

3. Special Effects for a Special Occasion

The lights and smoke that emit from this Hogwarts cake take it from pretty impressive to mind-blowing. Of course, it’s hard to expect anything less from the cake magicians at legendary Charm City Cakes.

4. Say Hello to My Little Friends

While the Cake Apothecary’s version might not be 100% accurate to the movie layout or feature special effects like some of the ones above, it makes up for it by adding in some of our favorite characters, including a few students in class within the cake itself.

5. Show Your True Colors

In an effort to celebrate all of the houses, Bakingdom created this fantastic cake that looks like it's made from scarves of all the different houses. This would be a perfect treat to open Quidditch season with a message about good sportsmanship.

6. Sorting Through the Sorting Hat Cakes

There are a whole lot of Sorting Hat cakes out there, but this one by Highland Bakery goes above and beyond by putting him on top of an already impressive cake painted with an image of the Hogwarts Express.

7. Send Hedwig Away to Enjoy The Cake Below

To be fair, Rosebud Cake’s sculpted bird cage and Hedwig aren’t part of the cake, but they certainly do add a lot to the design and they were made specifically for this project. Hedwig and her cage must be lifted up to reveal the cake underneath. Of course, the books, glasses, wand and potion are all edible.

8. A Perfect Perch for Hedwig

Into tall cakes? Then you’ll love this giant broom cake by Deb Kichline. As if the detailing, including a quill, ink, books, a wand, a scarf, golden snitches and Hedwig aren’t already impressive enough, you should know that the owl and snitches actually rotate on the top of the broom. Plus, the custom cake stand was equipped with an iPod and speakers so it could play the Harry Potter theme as the top rotated.

9. They’ve Grabbed The Golden Snitch In Love

While many of the other cakes on this list are more complex, the simplicity of Sweet Talk Cakes’ design is what makes it perfect for a classic, yet geeky, wedding, which is precisely what Allyson and Casey had in mind while planning their big day.

10. This Cake Is Ready to Bite Back

The great thing about this Book of Monsters cake by Cake Central user judy2808 is that you don’t have to stroke its spine gently in order to experience the delicious lessons inside. As a bonus, it comes with a tiny version of Dobby, complete with only one sock.

11. It’s Like Biting Into Your Favorite Book

Cake Central user pbjoachim took the covers of the Harry Potter books and placed them on perfectly shaped cakes with a wand and a ribbon bookmark. Bravo!

12. The Every Flavor Cupcake Topper Collection

The great thing about these cupcakes by Claire’s Cupcakes is that they have so many different icons on the tops. All of the houses are represented in two different ways, there’s a sign for Platform 9 ¾, the Sorting Hat is there, the obligatory glasses, lightning bolt and brooms are present, and, my personal favorite, there are even Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans on some of the cupcakes.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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