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mpburrows via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

11 Unforgettable Snowmen

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mpburrows via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

By now, you’re probably either stuck at home thanks to snow, waiting for the snow to arrive, or wishing that you had snow. If you can’t make it to work or school, you might pass the time by making a snowman. Here’s some inspiration for your creations—or, if you live in a warmer climate, some pictures to cool off with.

1. THE TALL GUY

SixgunSaint via imgur

SixgunSaint snapped a photo of this impressive snowman in Bozeman, Montana, last year. The engineering students of Montana State University constructed the massive Frosty, which The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported was around 20 feet tall.

2. SNOMO-KUN

Joel Carranza via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When you make a Domo-kun out of snow, he becomes Snomo-kun!

3. THE BEGGAR

popartandsoda via imgur

Redditor popartandsoda made this beggar snowman as the snow was starting to melt last year.

4. MOOMIN

poppet with a camera via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

 

Moomins are characters from a series of Swedish books, well known in Europe and lovingly recreated here in snow, with orange peel eyes!

5. OLAF

nsx9891 via imgur

A new instantly recognizable pop culture snowman came into being in 2013, thanks to the Disney movie Frozen. Olaf here was created by, or possibly just spotted by, nsx9891. It’s not often you come across a snowman dancing on one foot!

6. JUST RESTING

Jimmy Fink via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

From Eriksberg, Sweden, here are three characters using a public park as if it were summer.

7. GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

mpburrows via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A scene from Gulliver's Travels is recreated in this snow sculpture. The builder isn’t identified, but they put a lot of care into it.

8. RAGE FACE

MundoCani vua imgur

A very good likeness of the “rage face” rendered in snow.

9. DALEK

Phil Plait via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Doctor Who fan Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy Blog built this Dalek out of snow in 2009. See more pictures in the Flickr set dedicated to it.

10. HUNGRY SNOWMAN

Jorogasm via imgur

Jorogasm doesn’t know who made this hungry snowman, but it was worth taking a picture and sharing with us.

11. GRIEVING FAMILY

Hyperleggera via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The most creative and subversive snowmen of all were those depicted in the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes." Calvin's snowmen didn't just stand there smiling. He made snow tableaux that told stories, usually of murder and mayhem that made us laugh anyway. Ever since they were first published, people have frozen their hands recreating them from real snow. This set is called The Grieving Family. See more such scenes in the Flickr pool "Calvin & Hobbes" in Real Life.

See also: 12 Clever and Creative Snowmen and 8 Snowmen You Wish Were in Your Yard.

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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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