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Andrea at Sugar Swings!

8 Unconventional Ways to Decorate Gingerbread Men

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Andrea at Sugar Swings!

We often marvel at intricate and clever houses and other structures made of gingerbread, but simpler gingerbread men are also recipes for holiday success. Almost anyone can make and decorate the classically shaped cookies and they're also quite versatile. Here are a few ways people have upgraded the treat.

1. STORMTROOPERS

Sugar Swings! blogger Michelle carved out a set of Star Wars gingerbread men in the likeness of the various troopers in the series. The creations feature intricate icing that mimics the appearances of clone troopers, snow troopers, flamethrower troopers, and stormtroopers of both the First Order and the New Order. Even Captain Phasma is represented!

2. CRUMBS OF ANARCHY

For Christmas of 2013, Massachusetts-based bakery and Food Network Sugar Dome winner Cakes by Erin unveiled Crumbs of Anarchy, a collection of gingerbread men modeled after the characters on the FX drama Sons of Anarchy. The sweet replicas of Jax, Mark, Tig, and more characters even impressed a member of the show’s cast!

3. DEEP FRIED

This set of cookies from Oh, Bite it! proves that looks really aren't everything. The recipe improves on the store-bought formula by deep frying the treats and sprinkling them with powdered sugar.

4. SUPERHEROES

There's power in colorful icing. In 2011, Michelle at Sugar Swings! (who also made the stormtrooper-themed cookies) upgraded the standard shape into super hero gingerbread men and women with elaborate and vivid designs.

5. YOGA CLASS

You don’t always need detailed icing to make gingerbread men impressive. Patti Paige of Baked Ideas broke out of the mold with her gingerbread men in yoga poses. The creative cookie cutters (which you can buy here) bring Om in the form of 20 yoga poses, including tree, downward dog, wheel, and more.

6. UPSIDE DOWN

Stuck with the standard cookie cutters? Change things up by turning them upside-down. A few well-placed lines of icing, a red M&M, and two chocolate chip eyes transform each upside-down man into Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Get the recipe and instructions at She Knows.

7. FALLEN MEN

It's hard to bake gingerbread men without a few casualties— like a broken cookie limb or two. Candy Caldwell of Reykjavik, Iceland, added icing to injury, illustrating the gingerbread and their faux suffering. Caldwell submitted this picture to National Geographic and made the Photo of the Day in early 2010.

8. DAY OF THE DEAD

Andrea at Cupookie got twice as festive with her gingerbread men, merging decorations that represent two cold-weather holidays: Christmas and the Day of the Dead. A couple of years later, she followed up with a Day of the Dead gingerbread woman.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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