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12 Halloween Ideas From 1884's Hottest Costume Guide

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Are you seized with panic because you can't think of a costume for this year's Halloween celebrations? Relax, we've got you covered—well, technically Male Character Costumes, a Guide to Gentlemen's Costume Suitable for Fancy Dress Balls and Private Theatricals, an 1884 costume guide, has you covered. We've combed through the illustrated text and found 12 of the best costumes that still hold up in 2014. (Basically, we picked the 12 that aren't racially or culturally insensitive—people in 1884 were awful).

And while the book is for "Gentlemen," everyone is welcome to wear these duds. No one will take to the fainting couch in 2014 if they see a lady Faust.

1. Faust

How to pull it off: “Doublet of velvet, cut square at the throat, and filled in with a plaiting of muslin. The sleeves are full in the upper part, slashed with white silk, and formed into a double puff, fitting close on the forearm. The trunks are of velvet, slashed white. Long hose of lavender silk. Velvet cloak, lined with silk. Soft velvet hat, trimmed with a feather. Velvet sword belt, embroidered with gold.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: This is for the Goethe version of Faust. If you go around telling people that you are Thomas Mann's Faust, you will be a Halloween laughing stock and appear a common fool.

2. Skeleton

How to pull it off: “Close-fitting tunic and trousers of black velvet, painted down the front to represent a skeleton. This can be done with Judson’s luminous paint, or with Judson’s glitterine paint. Another way is to cut the shapes in white satin, and shade them up with crayons. High boots. Large cavalier cloak and hat.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: The guide-makers seem like they're getting some kickback from Judson's here, but, just to be safe, we have to recommend that you use Judson's brand paint and only Judson's for this costume. Judson's®: "That's Some Dang Good Paint!"

3. Napoléon Bonaparte

How to pull it off: “Blue cloth coat faced with wide revers of white, edged round with buttons. The skirt of the coat is cut away from the front. White silk vest and leather breeches. Hugh Leather boots. Gold epaulets. Sword handle and spurs. Brilliant star on the breast.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: At the time of this guide's publication, Napoléon had been dead for little over 60 years. Now that more time has passed, it is 100% appropriate to take some liberties with the costume for humor's sake. May we suggest a giant diaper or a sandwich board reading, "I'M A SHORT LITTLE FRENCH BABY"?

4. German Student

How to pull it off: “A military tunic of black velvet braided across the chest. Light tight-fitting trousers, and high boots. Belt round the waist, from which is suspended a tobacco pouch.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Keep in mind that the "military tunic" is from 1884. Don't wear any, uh, more modern German military garb.

5. Gondolier

How to pull it off: “Fancy costume. Shirt of black satin, with a V piece of red let in at the chest. Red sailor collar and cuffs, trimmed with gold braid. Trousers of red and black striped satin, with gold braid between each stripe. Red silk sash round the waist. Black satin bun hat, with a gold band and red tuft.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Feel free to wear this one year-round; it is too fly not to.

6. Harlequin

How to pull it off: “Close-fitting jersey and pantaloons in diamond shape, and three-cornered patterns in various colours, spot end and edged with gold. Belt round the waist. Cap with a black mask. Black wand. Low pointed shoes.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Nothing. It's perfect.

7. Mephistopheles

How to pull it off: “Doublet of scarlet satin, slashed trunks to match. Scarlet silk tights. Scarlet cape, short, with a high collar. Cape forming a point in front, with two scarlet feathers.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: People will ask who you are, and when you say, "Mephistopheles," they will likely go, "Oh, so like the devil?" Please memorize this in-depth text on Mephistopheles and how he relates to the modern world so you can recite it to fellow party-goers when they ask about your costume.

8. Punch

How to pull it off: “Tunic made in a very gaudy coloured cretonne, with a hump in back and front, and trimmed with small bells. Breeches in parti-colour, and stockings to match. Shoes turned up in points at the toes. Pointed cap, with a turned-up brim.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Look at that dog's little hat. Make sure you have a dog and it wears that hat. Nothing else about this freak show costume matters.

9. Quack

How to pull it off: Single-breasted frock coat covered with quack bulls, pill-box labels, etc… Knee breeches, stockings, and low shoes. Broad-brimmed hat.

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Many wares that were considered forms of quackery in the 1880s—balms, herbal tonics, etc...—are now actually celebrated for their holistic healing qualities. Quack accordingly.

10. Oliver Cromwell

How to pull it off: “Buff jerkin of leather with a deep steel collar. Knickerbockers. Jack boots. Long clock. Wide-brimmed beaver hat. Sword and belt.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Costumes that lampoon current events can be touchy, so make sure there are no King Charles sympathizers at any Halloween get-togethers you attend while dressed as Cromwell.

11. Huguenot

How to pull it off: "Leather doublet fastened round the waist with a broad belt. Brown cloth sleeves, and hanging sleeves to match trimmed with braid. Roll epaulet. Trunks of cloth striped with broad braid. High leather boots reaching to the trunks. White linen collar."

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Believe it or not, but Huguenot styles have changed a little in 150 years. To make sure people know who you are, make sure you act like a Huguenot. Really get into it; do that Huguenot walk, drink your beer like a Huguenot—you know the way, with the little thumb thing they do. Commit to the costume.

12. Image Boy

How to pull it off: The guide has no instructions for how to be an "image boy."

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Trust us—be the image boy.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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