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12 Wonderful Homemade Christmas Cards

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I was delighted in December of 1997 when my brother sent a Christmas card he made featuring the sonogram of their unborn first child wearing a Santa Claus hat. All these years later, that child is learning to drive a stick shift and tons of people sends sonogram Christmas cards with little cartoon hats pasted on with a simple app. But people are still pushing the envelope when it comes to personalized family Christmas cards. Some are funny just because they are awkward or unattractive, but the pictures I selected are very intentional in their strangeness. And these only represent a small sampling of the crazy Christmas cards people make.

Reddit has a great collection of personalized cards, but they are submitted separately and can be hard to find if you miss them. This one was submitted just yesterday by thejohnblog with the caption "My friends' Christmas cards get more and more epic each year. I don't know how they'll top this one."

A few years ago, the Barrys' young daughter swallowed a holiday pin and had to have minor surgery to extract it. She's fine now. The x-ray made an awesome card, submitted by a redditor who has since deleted their account.

LastNameRusk pulled a picture out of his past from a Christmas card photo session. His sisters were fighting, so he bashed their heads together and then went all innocent when the camera snapped. He was seven years old at the time. He did not say for sure whether this was the picture that the cards were made with -but we hope it was.

Redditor bdunks's parents took a family group photo and printed up 200 Christmas cards. Then he and his girlfriend (who was in the picture) broke up, so he did what he had to do to before they were mailed out.

His mother told him to sober up and send his own Christmas cards. So John Cessna did just that. The picture shown is from 2009, but you can see five years of homemade cards in the gallery.

Redditor tpthatsme showed eight years worth of Christmas cards featuring his children growing up with their father's sense of Photoshoppery humor. He also posted a "making-of" video for each card.

This family card, which dates back to at least 2011, is both realistic and modern. You occasionally see groups who look just like this, don't you? Maybe in your own living room!

The cat took the Christmas portrait. We can prove it.

Eric Mueller and Ramona Ponce sent out Christmas cards that emulated the look of an airport scanner -with Santa and his reindeer! Photograph from Cory Doctorow's Flickr stream.

Redditor Drixislove has a new baby this year. Her family encouraged her and her husband to make a personal Christmas card, so they acquiesced and sent this one out. She said they would either get the joke or call CPS. This is actually three photographs merged with editing magic. 

This picture, posted by redditor daveaspen, was taken for a friend's Christmas card. At least part of it was taken for a card; some of it was Hollywood. Don't crunch that Dorito!

Redditor xitrox68W went the artistic route for his Christmas card this year. You may have to study it, or look at the enlarged version, to see what makes it so special. He thinks his family might not even notice!

This list only scratches the surface of the clever and funny cards people are able to make with the aid of digital imaging and home printers. We may post more before the season is done!

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]