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Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater

15 Fantastically Ugly Holiday Sweaters

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Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater

Who doesn’t love a little ugly sweater action? We sure do—and so does Brian Howard, co-author of the book Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater. Brian invited us to take a look at his private collection of ugly sweater pictures on Flickr and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with you.

1. Stripper Claus

Image by Jessica Gabeler, Killington, VT

The first thing you'll probably notice about this gentleman’s terrible sweater is the lady with 3D breasts—but the more you look, the more you notice how horrible this garment is. From the three awkward and ugly Santas to the woman’s horribly mismatched and disfigured legs, this piece of holiday wear is a truly festive trainwreck.

2. Santa Moose

Image by Gloria Dawson

A Santa Moose handing out mini moose toys all covered in working lights? Yup, this sweater is an ugly Christmas miracle.

3. Good Taste Has Left the Building

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

Just looking at this couple is like a festive assault on the eyes. Together they should win a prize for worst dressed couple—which is a good thing at an ugly sweater party.

4. The Family That Uglies Together

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

This family’s matching ugly sweater photo shoot is pretty entertaining, but what really brings it over the top is the little girl’s teddy bear, which is also in on the bad taste parade.

5. Pick a Holiday, Any Holiday

Image by Jessica Gabeler, Killington, VT

I don’t know what’s tackier in this sweater picture—the Santa beard sweater with the felt paper chain, or the menorah hat covered in Christmas lights. Either way, this man certainly won the trophy in his hand.

6. An Ugly Hanukkah Sweater? Why Not?

Image by Brian Clark Howard

Just because ugly Christmas sweaters are all the rage doesn’t mean those who don’t celebrate the holiday are excluded from the fun. As this man’s ensemble proves, a Hanukkah sweater can be just as ugly as a Christmas one.

7. Old School and New School

Image by Jessica Gabeler, Killington, VT

This picture celebrates the two schools of ugly sweater—the originals, which were created as a means to celebrate Christmas in a festive frock, and modern ones, which were designed with no other intention than to be tacky. While the originals are fun in that they were first worn without any hint of irony, the more modern ones are almost more fun because they really test the limits of how ugly a sweater can be.

8. Make It Your Own

Image by Mindy Parisi, FindingSilverLinings

As this young couple demonstrates, one of the great things about the modern ugly Christmas sweater is that it doesn’t actually have to be designed with a Christmas theme at first. In fact, if you want to win a prize at your next ugly sweater party without spending a fortune finding a classic one on eBay, try grabbing any old sweater and making it into a Christmas tragedy with garland, bows, bells, and trashy Christmas appliqués.

9. Use Your Imagination

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

Have a sweater party to attend and can’t find anything that will work? Well, if you have anything Christmas-y lying around the house and some clothing you don’t care about, you’ve got all you need to make an ugly sweater (or dress). Even a rug and garland can make an ugly Christmas dress in no time.

10. Express Yourself

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

This sweater is such an eyesore that it seems to have sent its wearer into a spiral of depression.

11. Go for a Theme

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

Don’t just be a man in an ugly Christmas tree sweater … be the hideous Christmas tree you always dreamed of being.

12. Don’t Be Afraid to Accessorize

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

Sure, this sweater is ugly, but it’s the matching Christmas tree hat and boa that really sell it.

13. Involve Your Furry Friend

Image by January Meyer

Ordinarily, we tend to frown on those who think of their animals as fashion accessories, but when those animals are so clearly depicted on your ugly sweater, you pretty much have no choice but to drag your pooch around with you all day.

14. Watch Your Back

Image by Anne Marie Blackman

Can’t bear to see yourself wearing such a hideous piece of clothing when you look in the mirror? Then turn your back on the idea … literally. No one said the ugliest part of your sweater has to face forward.

15. Capes Are So Hot This Year

Image by Jessica Gabeler, Killington, VT

Finally, there’s no reason to limit yourself to a sweater when you want to wear terrible holiday duds. In fact, an eccentric tree skirt can actually prove to be even more tasteless and hilarious when worn as a stylish cape.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]