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FAO Schwarz

11 Stars Reimagined as Muppets

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FAO Schwarz

Kermit the Frog. Miss Piggy. Fozzie Bear. Gonzo. Statler and Waldorf. The Swedish Chef. The Muppets are massively famous celebrities with some serious staying power, but they aren't the only recognizable stars that can dazzle their many fans in felt (and googly eyes).

Toy store super power FAO Schwarz has long offered a little something they call “The Muppet Whatnot Shop,” which allows customers to design their very own Muppet, often made in their new owner’s likeness. As brilliant as the program is, what’s even more amazing is its online shop, where you can play around with your Whatnot to achieve maximum adorableness—or imagine what your favorite celebrities would look like as Muppets. Take a look!

1. Tina Fey

The funny lady has already gotten her own Muppet on screen, thanks to a very special episode of 30 Rock titled “Apollo, Apollo,” which revealed that Kenneth the page saw everyone as a Muppet, but what if you’d like your own Tina Fey Muppet to cuddle and eat ice cream with at home?

2. Amy Poehler

Fey’s constant comedic partner is a perfect fit for Muppet-izing, thanks to her consistently amusing facial expressions.

3. Brad Pitt

Yes, even Muppets can be dapper, and there’s perhaps no other Hollywood star that could pull off a lounge singer-inspired tuxedo quite like Muppet Brad Pitt.

4. Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey’s career may be on the rise on screens both big and small, but the superstar still manages to look laidback most of the time. And what’s more laidback than a Muppet version of the Oscar winner wearing a bowling shirt? Accessorize with some bongos, and you've got an "alright alright alright" version of McConaughey.

5. Jennifer Lawrence

Hollywood’s reigning It Girl seems like the exact type of person to get a real kick out of seeing herself in Muppet form—even if that involves a princess outfit.

6. Channing Tatum

While there are no available Whatnot outfits that scream “Magic Mike!,” this particularly all-American ensemble does appear to suit Tatum quite well. Perhaps he’ll go out for the college baseball team in 22 Jump Street?

7. Amy Adams

The Whatnot Shop offers a few items that all but beg to be put on an Amy Adams Muppet—like a sparkling ensemble that harkens back to last year’s American Hustle and a wreath of red hair to complete the look.

8. Benedict Cumberbatch

Although the rising star is best known for his turns on mainstream fare like Star Trek Into Darkness, the Brit is also quite charming on the UK series Sherlock. What says Holmes quite like a trench coat?

9. Tom Hiddleston

Hollywood’s other breakout British superstar-in-the-making, Loki himself is both very refined and very good-natured—just like this plaid suit (we’re so sorry, Tom).

10. Scarlett Johansson

Yet another Marvel star, Scar-Jo has been around the movie world for long enough that we can remember way back to her teen years when she just might have worn something like this furry sweater. Who are we kidding? Johansson can look good in just about anything, and so can her Muppet counterpart.

11. Angelina Jolie

If we’re being honest with ourselves, these dark Whatnot tresses were made to be put on a stylish Angelina Jolie Muppet, especially a leather-wearing one.

Want a Muppet of your very own? Make one at the Whatnot shop!

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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]