CLOSE
Original image

Baby Jessica and other kids I'd forgotten about...

Original image

Sure, you remember their stories. You might even be able to remember their names. But here's the real question: it's 7am, do you know where these kids are right now?

That Kid: Who Got Stuck Down a Well

The Story: Back in 1987, an 18-month old "Baby Jessica" McClure captured the nation's attention when she tumbled into an old well in her aunt's backyard. Emergency workers piped fresh air and heat into the well, and expert miners spent 58 straight hours digging a parallel shaft 22 feet into the ground to rescue her. While healthy at the moment, The Today Show reported that Jessica has undergone 15 surgeries and 9 blood transfusions since reemerging.
Picture 22.png The Post-Puberty Report: Adult Jessica seems to be, pardon the phrase, well-adjusted. Now 21, she's married, has a child, and according to all reports, remains thoroughly down-to-earth. In fact, she's refused to get plastic surgery to cover up her scars because it reminds her to be thankful for her life. Of course, she'll probably be even more thankful for her life in 4 years. That's when a trust fund, set up in her name with public donations, should kick a few million dollars her way.

That Kid: Who Was Too Old to Play Little League

Picture 7.pngThe Story: Back in 2001, Danny Almonte didn't just pitch his Bronx, NY team to a third-place finish in the Little League World Series; the 12-year old phenom also pitched a perfect game along the way. Of course, there was just one problem: turns out little Danny wasn't so little. After a rival Staten Island team hired a private investigator to look into the case, Sports Illustrated followed-up with their own investigation. Unbeknownst to Danny, his father had falsified his birth certificate by two years to hand his son an arm up on the competition.
The Post-Puberty Report: Well, to be accurate, the story actually started post-puberty. That said, while the team was stripped of their Little League title, all the players including Danny Almonte were cleared of any wrong-doing (since he didn't know his own age at the time). As for where Danny is today: after helping his high school team win 2 public school athletic league championships (and garnering MVP honors), ESPN is reporting that he's now pitching professionally, throwing "90s plus fast-balls" for the Southern Illinois Miners.

PLUS: We catch up with rock 'n' roll's favorite baby, a 13-year old cover model and the kid who outspelled Dan Quayle after the break.

That Kid: from Nirvana's Nevermind album

nevermind.jpg The Story: According to CommonGate, when Nirvana initially brainstormed on CD artwork, they started by looking at stock photography of babies swimming. But when the costs proved too stiff for their slim wallets, the band hired a photographer who in turn paid a friend's couple $200 to use their 4-month old baby in the shoot. Supposedly Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love were so pleased with the pic, they vowed to take the kid out to dinner when he grew up as thanks for his contribution to the album. As for the hook and dollar also featured in the pic? Those were actually Photoshopped into the scene later.
Picture 12.png The Post-Puberty Report: Now 16, Spencer Elden has been featured in various Nirvana documentaries and magazine features. He claims to be a big fan of the band, and proud of his child labor for the album. And while there's no word on whether Courtney Love has followed up on her promise to feed the kid, Nirvana's isn't the only album on which he's been featured. Elden also appears on the cover of Skinny Puppy founder cEvin Key's 2003 album The Dragon Experience.

That Kid: Who Spelled Potato Right (until the VP corrected him)

Picture 5.png The Story: In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle made a pit stop in Trenton, NJ, where he acted as judge in a 6th grade spelling bee. Unfortunately for Quayle, the cards he'd been handed hadn't been spell-checked. So when William Figueroa, who'd been bused in for the event, spelled out his word correctly, Quayle told him "You're close, but you left a little something off. The e on the end." The press immediately picked up the story, Figueroa appeared on Letterman and Quayle's reputation as a mental midget was solidified in the public's mind.
The Post-Puberty Report: Not good, from what we've read. In 2004, a New York Times reporter met up with Figueroa, who'd since dropped out of high school, had his first child by 16, two more by age 24, and was reportedly working a low paying job.

That Kid: from the National Geographic

Picture 4.png The Story: While visiting a Pashtun refugee camp in Pakistan, photographer Steve McCurry snapped a pic of a 13-year old orphan with hauntingly beautiful eyes. The image made the cover of a 1984 National Geographic, and the girl became an international celebrity. Well, sort of. Despite securing a great shot, McCurry never took down the girl's name, and despite taking more than 10 trips back to the region to locate her, it would be another 17 years before she was tracked down.
The Post-Puberty Report: Now a wife and mother of three, Sharbat Gula lives in a Picture 31.pngremote village in Afghanistan. She lives in purdah, and while only female reporters were allowed to visit and photograph her for National Geographic's long awaited follow-up, supposedly she's now "being looked after" by the magazine. Of course, as the BBC reports, the most amazing part is that she hates the iconic photo. She never liked the red scarf she was photographed in, she doesn't like media attention, and has since moved to avoid future interviews.

Plus, a few more tykes you might've forgotten about:
Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, has had her own baby.
Elian Gonzales is now a Cuban celeb, has a lot of pets, gets front row seats to Castro speeches, and apparently helped land his father a plush gig in Cuba's national assembly.
And Heather DeLoach, who tapped danced her way into MTV viewers' hearts as a tap-dancing bee in Blind Melon's "No Rain" video, has since landed several acting jobs, including 2 episodes of ER.

Special thanks to Kara Kovalchik for all her research work on this piece.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES