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5 Reasons Jamie Lynn's Kid might have a Chance

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Yesterday, a tabloid addicted world oohed and aahed as Britney's kid sister, the 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Well, there was more oohing than aahing. And while some are using the opportunity to point out the scary statistics and difficulties that accompany teen motherhood (and/or being born into the Spears family), we're trying to look at the bright side. Here are five people, born to teenage moms, who did just fine.

1. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

kersee.jpgRegarded by many as the best all-around female athlete, Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born in 1962 to teen parents in the south-end slums of East St. Louis. Named for Jacqueline Kennedy (her grandmom insisted that the baby girl was going to grow up to be "the first lady of something"), Joyner-Kersee grew up amidst poverty and, at age 11, saw a man get shot outside the tiny home her family shared. Around that same time, Jackie's mother started fearing her daughter was growing up too quickly. She decided that her children wouldn't be allowed to date until they were 18. So, Jackie channeled her energy into sports. By the time she was 12, she could long jump almost 17 feet!

Joyner-Kersee went on to attend UCLA and in 1984 she won her first Olympic medal, in the heptathlon. She spent the next 18 years winning medals (three gold, one silver, two bronze) and setting and breaking world records. She retired in 2001, her place in history solidified as the first lady of track and field.

2. Jack Nicholson

The three-time Oscar winner was raised by his grandparents, and told that his mother was his older sister. In 1936, June Nicholson, a 17-year-old showgirl, was pregnant and in love with a 27-year-old man who was separated but still legally married. Nicholson's grandparents decided to raise Jack as their own.

Nicholson only learned the truth in 1975.

A Time reporter working on a cover story stumbled across the true nature of Jack's birth and called him with the stunning news. By the time he figured it out, both June and his grandmother had passed away, taking with them the secret that they hid for nearly 40 years.

3. Daunte Culpepper

daunte-si.jpgIn 1977, a teen serving time for armed robbery begged a 62-year-old woman to take in her one-day-old baby. Having already raised 14 children (none of them biologically her own), Emma Culpepper initially refused. But after realizing the child would be placed in foster care, she relented. Emma gave the baby her last name and would spend the rest of her life loving and supporting the eventual first round draft pick. Today, the quarterback is a massive supporter of the African American Adoption Agency. As for Emma Culpepper, she passed away on May 5th, 2007, at the age of 92.

4. Bob Marley

In 1945, the prolific artist credited with bringing reggae to the world was born to a teenage black Jamaican mother and a white Jamaican father in the village of Nine Mile. At the age of 10, Marley's father died of a heart attack and the family was forced to move to the slums of Trenchtown. Bob quickly found his niche, making friends with musicians in the area; he spent his time recording and would soon form the group that would later become The Wailers.

Bob spread his message of love, peace and music in Jamaica before becoming an international sensation in the mid-seventies. It was then that a soccer injury would lead doctors to find a cancerous tumor in Marley's toe. They suggested amputation, but as a devout Rastafarian, it was out of the question for Bob. The cancer spread and Marley succumbed to the disease in 1980. Earlier this year, Martin Scorsese announced plans to produce a documentary on the well-loved singer to be released on February 6th, 2010—the date that would have been Bob's 65th birthday.

5. Eric Clapton

The three-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee (The Yardbirds, Cream & solo) was born in 1945 in Surrey, England. His mother was 16; his father was a 24-year-old Canadian soldier. Like Nicholson, Clapton's grandparents decided to raise the child as their own, telling Eric that his mother was actually his older sister. Clapton, however, learned the truth when he was nine. He searched for his biological father for years, eventually learning the true identity (and news of his death) from a Canadian journalist. As for Clapton's father, who died in 1985, he never knew that the famed music legend was his son.

Stefanie Fontanez is an occasional contributor to mental_floss.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]