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Friends in record places

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Doug Williams is a dear friend of mine, and he also happens to hold the Guinness World Record for Longest Nipple Hair. The paperwork arrived the other day: with his 5.07-inch-long nipple hair, he officially beats out Simon Mould of the UK, whose prize hair was 4.5 inches.

The measuring ceremony (pictured) took place this spring in Brooklyn, attracting the attention of The Brooklyn Paper:

It might seem excessive to bring in a medical doctor for a single hair, but the Guinness Book requires that the measurer is a licensed doctor with "standing in the community." And that's just one of many complex regulations imposed on the record-breaking event. Williams filled out pages of paperwork, the hair had to be measured three times and photographed, and it had to be wet during the process.

Since the picture doesn't offer a clear view of the hair, here's a list of items that are roughly the same size as Doug's World Record achievement:e

Q&A and naming contest after the jump...

Q&A with Doug Williams, Guinness World Record Holder of the Longest Nipple Hair...Read on for details on how Doug needs your help in naming this champion hair.

Doug, congratulations on surpassing Mr. Mould's record-length nipple hair. Have you heard from him at all?
I haven't heard from him, but if anyone knows where he is just have him get in touch with me so we can work it out and exchange techniques and common dreams.

Are there any other world records you want to break?
I'm open to anything. I'll probably break some other record at some point. I don't want to be chasing records, I'll let them come to me.
Your nipple hair seems like a character. Has it appeared in any of your dreams?
I had anxiety dreams when I was right around the official nipple hair measuring--like throwing it on a BBQ, things like that.df
How have your parents responded to all of this?
My parents are very supportive that someone from my family's finally done something with his life.
You have a brother. Is there any rivalry with him over your accomplishment?
My brother Rob has grown a much longer beard than me now to compensate.
If you & your nipple hair could appear in any kind of commercial, what would it be?
Probably a series of PSAs to make the world a better place.

When it comes to interpreting our own lives, I think we tend to be eisegetes. But let me ask you this: what's the message implicit in your 5.07-inch nipple hair?
I think the message is right out there, and it says be everything that you can be.

Who are your heroes?

Predecessors, previous record holders, Hank Aaron--I see myself as a Hank Aaron with nipple hair--it's a pure record. As I've said before, I know that someone will come along who'll be the Barry Bonds of nipple hair who'll be juicing on Rogaine and I'm happy to be a natural man.

sfdWhat are you reading currently?
I'm reading a book about salt. I like to eat salt and I like books with one word titles that say what they're about.

What are your plans for the future?
To showcase my domination of the sport by continuing to break my own record in an annual nipple hair party/pig roast. I want to break my record every year.


The Longest Nipple Hair in the World needs a name! Doug hasn't thought of one yet...So he's asking for your contributions. The winner will receive a personal letter from Doug, along with an autographed photo of the nipple hair.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]