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5 Unusual Ways to Earn a College Scholarship

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College is expensive. Scholarships can help to relieve some of that financial burden, and we’re here to clue you in to a few that are available to students who aren’t star athletes or in the upper reaches of their class’ grade point percentile.

1. Stop People From Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is bad. If you help to spread the word about the dangers of texting behind the wheel, you could be entered in a drawing for a $10,000 scholarship to the school of your choice. The deadline has passed for 2012, but there's already information available on how to get involved in the contest for 2013. (Hint: it involves wearing tiny socks on your thumbs, taking a picture, and getting five like-minded friends to do the same.)

2. Channel Your Inner Dr. Seuss

Two years ago Random House hosted a contest celebrating the 20th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’ classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go! book in which the prize was a $10,000 scholarship. Thanks to the enthusiastic response, they quickly made it an annual event, with a different twist each year. In 2010 it was an essay contest, in 2011 contestants had to submit original artwork. The criteria for the 2012 competition (prize to be awarded in 2013) have not yet been announced, but you can send an email to info@drseussart.com and request the details. Or “like” their Facebook page and be automatically kept abreast of the particulars.

3. Make a Sandwich (as a Preteen)

This scholarship is for kids who are planning way ahead when it comes to higher education – it is restricted to children aged six to 12. Of course, this means that a parent or guardian must fill out the application to enter their budding chef in Jif Peanut Butter’s annual Most Creative Sandwich contest. There are several prize levels to shoot for, with a grand prize of a $25,000 college fund up for grabs.

4. Give Peace a Chance

Despite its New Age-y name, The Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding is a bona fide and sincere organization that believes world peace can be achieved by open and analytical discussions of justice and freedom by young people today. They sponsor an annual essay contest that awards both national and state prizes, with a top award of $10,000. The topic for the 2012/2013 contest is “What does it mean to have a gendered approach to war and peace issues?” and the submission deadline is February 1, 2013. Get all the fine print and requirements here.

5. Design a Greeting Card

Have you ever browsed the rack of greeting cards at your local drugstore and thought “My kid can draw/write a better card than that!”? Well, here’s your kid’s chance to prove it and perhaps earn a $10,000 scholarship in the process. The deadline for submitting original artwork, photography or computer graphics for a family- or business-friendly greeting card is January 16, 2013. Everything you need to know can be found at the Gallery Collection’s website.

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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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