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13 Wonderful Homemade Christmas Cards

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A year ago, I collected a dozen great homemade Christmas cards. There are plenty more out there! Christmas cards are so easy to make in the 21st century, thanks to digital cameras, email, and Photoshop. You’re only limited by your imagination -and plenty of people have great imaginations, which they are willing to share.

Daniel McConnell lost part of his right arm in Afghanistan in 2006. HIs fiancée Megan Duffey had a mastectomy in October of 2013. This couple did not lose their sense of humor, though. Their Christmas card last year was reminiscent of the O Henry tale The Gift of the Magi, with a humorous twist, as she gives him a pair of gloves and he gives her a red bra.

"We wanted to do something funny that would set the tone for our friends to ask questions," Duffey said. "If we can laugh at it, then (friends and family) can laugh at it and feel comfortable to come to us with questions."

Since the original photograph made it hard to see the bra, this image with a green bra came courtesy of redditor OneoftheZombies

Re-enacting the Christmas story is common for a tabletop or a church service, but this couple made it personal by putting the re-enactment on their Christmas card, starring family members. Since most of their family members are cats, they get some of the starring roles. Inflatable friends helped, too.

Many homemade cards feature the family pet(s), even if they aren’t dogs or cats. Jenny Jillon posted a Christmas card starring her pet hedgehog Euclid. As Rudolph, the Red-Nosed reindeer. Well, if a reindeer can fly and pull a sled, why not a hedgehog?

We featured John Cessna’s outrageous holiday cards last year, but he’s expanded the line. You can see several of his bizarre ideas that stray from his usual theme of being drunk and alone on Christmas. This one is a knockout!

Bridget makes a Christmas card every year that plays off the joke that she’s the only sibling in the family that’s still single. This is the latest card; you can find a collection of previous cards in a gallery at imgur. Contains NSFW text. At least this year, she’s not drowning her sorrows.

Redditor judokitten made a card this year that illustrates her dearest Christmas wish. That’s what happens when you have to listen to two kids singing the Pokemon theme incessantly. Of course, it’s a Christmas wish that many parents hold.

Redditor n33hai and his wife have two daughters. The older one has just discovered the joy of pinching, which imbued their Christmas photo shoot with personality. He’s selected this one to share with friends and family as a greeting.

Singer Kelly Clarkson and her husband Brandon Blackstock turned Christmas on its ear with their greeting card last year. Santa’s apparently had enough of this family and wrapped them up so he can enjoy some cheer himself! Clarkson was expecting at the time, and gave birth to a baby girl in June.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Redditor moneyballbingo shared the Christmas card his grandma received from her mailman last year. This guy not only enjoys his job, he knows how to make people smile -and they’ll remember that.

Clifford and Lauren commissioned an artist to render them as mythical beasts for their Christmas cards. Considering the cost, I’d imagine they also have a large artwork in their home, since the picture itself is not Christmas-themed. Commenters imagined their children as seahorses.

Instagram member shear_hope re-enacted the Christmas talent show scene from the movie Mean Girls with her friends to make a Christmas card.

A well-done face swap. The card ignore_my_typo used last year had all four family members looking good- but wearing each other’s faces. It’s a document of their appearances at the time, if you can parse them out.

Lori Bale of Coral Springs, Florida, always has a creative family card for Christmas (and sometimes New Years, too). I particularly like this one, in which everyone took a selfie, including Daisy the dog.

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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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Creative Bar Owners in India Build Maze to Skirt New Liquor Laws
June 20, 2017
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Facing a complicated legal maze, a bar in the southern Indian state of Kerala decided to construct a real one to stay in business, according to The Times of India. Aiswarya Bar, a watering hole that sits around 500 feet from a national highway, was threatened in 2016 after India's Supreme Court banned alcohol sales within 1640 feet of state and country-wide expressways to curb drunk driving. Instead of moving or ceasing operation, Aiswarya Bar's proprietors got creative: They used prefabricated concrete to construct a convoluted pathway outside the entrance, which more than tripled the distance from car to bar.

Aiswarya Bar's unorthodox solution technically adhered to the law, so members of the State Excise Administration—which regulates commodities including alcohol—initially seemed to accept the plan.

"We do [not] measure the aerial distance but only the walking distance," a representative told The Times of India. "However, they will be fined for altering the entrance."

Follow-up reports, though, indicate that the bar isn't in the clear quite yet. Other officials reportedly want to measure the distance between the bar and the highway, and not the length of the road to the bar itself.

Amid all the bureaucratic drama, Aiswarya Bar has gained global fame for both metaphorically and literally circumnavigating the law. But as a whole, liquor-serving establishments in India are facing tough times: As Quartz reports, the alcohol ban—which ordered bars, hotels, and pubs along highways to cancel their liquor licenses by April 1, 2017—has resulted in heavy financial losses, and the estimated loss of over 1 million jobs. Aiswarya Bar's owner, who until recently operated as many as nine local bars, is just one of many afflicted entrepreneurs.

Some state governments, which receive a large portion of their total revenue from liquor sales, are now attempting to downgrade the status of their state and national highways. To continue selling liquor in roadside establishments, they're rechristening thoroughfares as "urban roads," "district roads," and "local authority roads." So far, the jury's still out on whether Kerala—the notoriously heavy-drinking state in which Aiswarya Bar is located—will become one of them.

[h/t The Times of India]