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The New Single-Medal Countries (and Two That Left the List)

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A few weeks ago, we gave you 21 countries that have only won a single Olympic medal. Now that the London Games are through, it's time to update our list with the countries that netted their first-ever medal this summer, and the two countries that have now moved into multiple medal territory.

First-time medals

Bahrain

Bahrain thought it had taken home its first medal in 2008, but runner Rashid Ramzi saw his gold medal in the men's 1,500 stripped a year later because of a doping violation. By taking the bronze in London in the women's 1,500 meter run, Maryam Yusuf Jamal has now finally ended the country's drought. Jamal was born in Ethiopia but fled and sought asylum in several countries before landing in Bahrain. She had also competed in the 2008 Olympics, where she placed fifth in the same event.

Botswana

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Runner Nijel Amos won silver in the men's 800 meter, with the 18-year-old taking home the country's first medal after eight appearances. Fellow runner Amantle Montsho was also in contention for a medal in the women's 400 meter, but ultimately placed fourth.

Cyprus

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Pavlos Kontides was responsible for Cyprus' first medal when he took the bronze in men's laser sailing. Cyprus has been competing in every Olympics as an independent nation since 1980 and came close to a medal in 2008, when shooter Antonis Nikolaidis just missed the chance at a bronze in a shoot-off. Kontides told reporters that he guessed he "wrote [his] name in Cyprus sport in golden letters" and even got a personal phone call from the country's president after his medal was guaranteed.

Gabon

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With a silver in taekwando, Anthony Obame became the first Gabonese athlete to medal. And while Obame was pleased with his achievement, he was frustrated about coming so close to gold -- he was leading Italian Carlo Molfetta in the closing minute of the final match, but ended up losing on a judge's decision after Molfetta tied it up.

Grenada

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Grenada ended its medal drought in impressive fashion, with runner Kirani James taking the gold in the men's 400 meter with a 2012 world-leading record 43.94-second time. James, who in 2011 became the youngest world champion in the 400-meter at age 18, also made headlines in London when he exchanged bibs with Oscar Pistorius after their semifinal heat out of respect for the double-amputee's work.

Guatemala

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Erick Barrondo secured Guatemala's first medal with a silver in the men's 20-kilometer racewalk. Barrondo, who used to be a middle-distance runner before a knee injury directed him to racewalking, said he hoped his medal would inspire the nation's youth to stay away from gang violence and instead pursue athletics. In recognition of his medal, the Guatemalan legislature voted unanimously to make him a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress and award him $64,000.

Montenegro

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Although Montenegrin athletes had won medals before, the country was only allowed to compete on its own starting in 2008, after winning independence from Serbia in 2006. This year, the country's women's handball team rallied the nation by winning a silver medal. The medal match actually marked the end of the career for handball star Bojana Popovic and teammate Maja Savic. And it's a good thing the women buoyed the nation's spirits -- there was widespread disappointment after the country's water polo team was bounced in the semifinals by Croatia.

New Multiple Medal Winners

Afghanistan

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Four years after taking home the country's first ever medal, Afghan sports hero Rohullah Nikpai (above) doubled the medal count by winning a bronze in taekwando (he had also won a bronze in 2008). A second taekwando competitor from Afghanistan, Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, placed 5th in a higher weight class, despite competing in his final match with injuries that landed him in the hospital immediately afterwards.

Kuwait

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After some concern that Kuwait wouldn't even be able to send a delegation (the IOC had ruled that any Kuwaiti athlete would have to compete under the Olympic flag because of political interference in Kuwait, but overturned the ruling in July), the country added to its medal count. The victor was the same as in 2000 -- shooter Fehaid Al Deehani, who won the bronze in men's trap shooting. Al Deehani, who also won a bronze in 2000, is identified in his Olympics profile as a public servant, with the appropriate hobby of "hunting."

The rest of the single-medal countries

Barbados * Bermuda * Burundi * Djibouti * Eritrea * Guyana * Iraq * Ivory Coast * Republic of Macedonia * Mauritius * Netherlands Antilles * Niger * Paraguay * Senegal * Sudan * Togo * Tonga * United Arab Emirates * Virgin Islands

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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