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This is Madness

11 OTHER March Madness Tournaments

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This is Madness

The NCAA March Madness basketball tournament begins today. But that’s not the only tournament going on, oh no! If you aren’t into basketball, we’ve got plenty of other ways to play the brackets. Many websites stage their own tournaments at the same time, to determine the best …whatever it is you’re interested in. Look these over and find something you care about -and then go participate!

1. Science Fiction vs. Fantasy

Image by DeviantART member Vitor Zago.

io9 presents a March Madness tournament every year, but the subject is always different. This year, different fictional genres are pitted against each other, and the outcome depends on your votes. Enlarge the bracket here. The first round started yesterday, in which new zombies defeated old zombies as The Walking Dead outperformed Night of the Living Dead, and several other first-round matchups. More polls in the first round will be posted tomorrow,and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until the final round. Competitors include such disparate stories as Star Trek, Alice in Wonderland, Godzilla, and Akira.

2. Musical March Madness

MTV News’ Musical March Madness has a circular interactive bracket. Sixty-four bands are in contention for the crown, and first-round voting is open until March 24th. The ultimate winner will be crowned on April 9th. Meanwhile, there is a discussion forum about the voting. I can’t make any sense of it; maybe you can.

3. Bunny Slippers Tournament

Bunny Slippers. which sells house shoes, has a tournament bracket to see which of 16 popular stuffed fuzzy slippers are best. Are the yellow duck slippers better than the mallard slippers? Are S’mores better than zombies? Will Yoda slippers defeat the LEGO block slippers? And will the classic bunnies prevail in the end? Fill out your bracket predictions by March 23rd to win prizes (slippers, of course). The winners will be determined by how accurate (and early) your picks are. Accurate compared to what, I don’t know.

4. Condiment Madness

What’s the best thing to put on a hot dog? We’ll find out what everyone else thinks as the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council presents Condiment Madness! The bracket is here. They’re giving away prizes for participation, too. The first poll, taken through a Facebook app, is closed. They said there would be a new poll each day, though there doesn’t seem to be one available yet today, but there may be soon.

5. CustomInk's Iconic T-shirt Tourney

CustomInk put the 32 most iconic t-shirt designs into a tournament for you to vote on. The four “regions” are brand names, bands, movies, and everything else. Click on the first round matchups in the bracket to start voting.

6. The ACA Bracket

Whitehouse.gov has launched an online tournament to determine the best reason to sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The reasons are accompanied by humorous gifs in each of the first-round matchups. The drawback is that you must vote with your Facebook or Twitter account. The sixteen reasons in contention do not appear on a visible bracket.

7. The Star Wars Character Tournament

This is Madness is an online tournament featuring 32 Star Wars characters. They will compete for your votes from now until April 7th, when the final battle comes down to the champion of the Light vs. the champion of the Dark Side. First round voting is going on now.

8. Mix March Madness 2014 Webcomics Tournament

Comic Mix presents the 2014 Mix March Madness 2014 Webcomics Tournament, despite the banner image at the site clearly saying 2013. The 128 competitors are divided into the regions of Cardy, Infantino, Morales, and Plastino. You’ll find the brackets at the first round voting post. but if you don’t know xkcd from SATW, Axe Cop from Penny Arcade, or the difference between Zebra Girl and The Oatmeal, you should take advantage of the links in the brackets to check out webcomics you might fall in love with.

9. Geek Madness: Star Wars vs. Star Trek

The Geek Twins are holding first round voting now in the Geek Madness tournament. The 32 characters in competition are divided into four regions of Star Wars heroes, Star Wars villains, Star Trek heroes and Star Trek villains. Enlarge the bracket here. Keep up with further voting at The Geek Twins.

10. Teen TV Madness

Forever Young Adult had a tournament about teen movies last year, and this year they're looking for your vote to select the best teen TV series. Teen TV Madness has 64 shows competing. The competition is already up to the division semi-finals. Keep up with the results here

11. The Worst Company in America

The most popular of all the non-basketball tournaments is the annual Worst Company in America tournament from Consumerist. This year’s bracket has some difficult-to-decide matchups.

…there are several returning competitors, including previous champs EA and Comcast, three-time runner-up (and sort of winner from when it acquired Countrywide) Bank of America, the perennially hated Ticketmaster and PayPal (with their respective corporate counterparts LiveNation and eBay).

There are also some new names on the list, like Koch Industries and lawsuit-happy seed company Monsanto. There’s also SeaWorld making a splash on WCIA 2014, presumably because people have been watching that Blackfish documentary.

First round voting begins March 19. Follow the tournament’s progress at Consumerist.

See also: The followup to this post, 9 More Alternate March Madness Tournaments.

And there are some tournaments we’ve covered in the past that are staging return engagements you may be interested in:

Middle-earth Madness 2014

Fug Madness 2014

The Morning News Tournament of Books

Hulu’s Best in Show

Dabwaha’s annual Romance Novel Tournament

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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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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]

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