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Shannon McLaughlin

9 Odd and Awesome 2014 Calendars

Original image
Shannon McLaughlin

You have to have a great calendar on your wall that will keep your interest every month through the year 2014. Try something new and different with one of these strange and wonderful offerings. We'll start with some calendars we've never featured before.

1. NYC Taxi Drivers

The NYC Taxi Drivers 2014 Beefcake Calendar takes liberties with what most of us would consider "beefcake." It features real taxi drivers in their everyday work lives. They volunteered their time and images because the calendar will benefit University Settlement, an organization that provides a range of services to lift New York City families out of poverty.

2. Sexy Monsters

Artists and photographers can put anything on a calendar, but it's funnier when you try to fit something completely unsexy into the classic idea of a pinup calendar. Erika Deoudes illustrated your favorite movie monsters and aliens in classic pinup poses for her Calendar of Sexy Monsters. The calendars are available in various formats at her Etsy store, where you can also get individual monster prints.

3. Darth Vader and Son

When you think of famous fathers, Darth Vader should come to mind. Yeah, we make enough Fathers Day jokes about it every year. But you can have that fuzzy warm feeling about the Sith Lord all year long with the Darth Vader and Son 2014 Wall Calendar! This calendar is from Jeffrey Brown, the author of the book Darth Vader and Son, about the fantasy interactions between Vader and young Luke.

4. The Warwick Rowers

The Warwick University Rowing Club (of the University of Warwick in England) has sold a calendar for every year since 2009, featuring their athletes in the altogether. Yes, they are nude, with tastefully-placed hands, accessories, or tall grass. Proceeds go to support the school's boating sports. And starting last year, the calendar is used in connection with Sports Allies, an organization fighting homophobia and bullying. The picture shown here is heavily cropped from the original. See more pictures at Buzzfeed (NSFW). 

Oh yes, Warwick has a women's rowing team, too, and they are selling a nude calendar as well. They use a lot of oars as props.

5. Kanye with Pugs

An art group from Barcelona called Meet the Pugs pulled off a strange stunt by selling calendars on Kickstarter featuring Kanye West, his 12 most memorable quotes (for example: "My greatest pain in life is that I'll never be able to see myself perform live"), and pugs. The pug dogs were Photoshopped onto images of Kanye for each month. This unique calendar is now sold out, but you can see images at the Kickstarter page. The video on that page contains NSFW language. Some of the funders received multiple copies of the calendar, so they may be marketed elsewhere as limited edition collector's items. Meet the Pugs also has art prints from the project for sale. 

6. Yoga Dudes

Yoga Trail invited their readers to submit photos for the 2014 Yoga Dudes Calendar, and got 800 submissions! Those were winnowed down to twelve that were published in a calendar that will benefit the Movember Foundation. You can see all 12 dudes at Yoga Trail. Only one of them is completely nude.

7. Animals from History

Artist Christina Hess illustrates historical figures as if they were cats and dogs! She published her Animals from History in an ebook, and has a calendar for 2014 featuring 13 of her illustrations. You can get it through her Etsy store for a mere $6.

8. Cats Let Nothing Darken Their Roar

Artist Noa Bembibre has been producing a limited-edition art calendar since 2005, different every year, but based on a continuing idea. Each month features a sentence or phrase in which the name of the month is hidden. See examples from previous years. The name of this project is a phrase that contains the word "calendar." Order your 2014 calendar here. Oh, you can also order cards and prints with custom names and phrases done this way!

9. Tattooed Librarians

Get ready to have your typical image of a librarian changed forever. The Rhode Island Library Association printed a calendar titled Tattooed Librarians of the Ocean State 2014. You might be surprised at the kind of ink these librarians selected! Sales of the calendars will benefit the Rhode Island Library Association. Sadly, the limited edition run of calendars has sold out, but you can see the images at Huffington Post. 

And here are some links for 2014 editions of calendars that we've featured in previous years.

12 Months of a Dead Ken

Guinea Pig Games

The Roadkill Calendar

Heavy Equipment Calendar

The Hooters Owl Calendar

Toilets Around the World

Goats in Trees

Surf Dogs

Extraordinary Chickens

Passive-Aggressive Notes

Hot Guys and Baby Animals

Roman Priest Calendar

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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]