CLOSE
Original image

The Killilea Family: Where Are They Now?

Original image

I first read With Love from Karen years ago when I was home sick with pneumonia. When I was well enough to go to the library, I checked out the author's first book, Karen, and basically read the story of the Killilea family in reverse.


To summarize, Karen was born (in 1940) three months premature and wasn't expected to survive. She spent her first nine months in what would now be called a neo-natal intensive care unit, and when she finally went home her parents noticed that something was amiss with their daughter. Her limbs seemed unusually stiff, she never rolled over in her crib, nor did she make an effort to reach for the toys offered to her. Several years went by before they were able to get a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy, and even more time elapsed before they found a specialist who could treat Karen. Marie worked tirelessly to find and unite other parents of CP children and eventually helped to found the Cerebral Palsy Association.

Over the years, I'd occasionally re-read WLFK and wonder whatever happened to Karen and her family. I checked out the title at Amazon.com and found that there were lots of other Karen readers out there who were wondering the same thing. I sensed a research project, and spent many hours online and in the library. I found out that there was still much tragedy ahead for the Killilea family.

karen-fire-little-red-house.jpgA large part of WLFK focused on the love story between Gloria (Karen's eldest sister) and Russ, who had to wait seven long years (due to Russ' annulment of a previous union and the couple's desire to marry in the Catholic church) before Pope Pius XII gave them permission to be married. The births of their first two children, Mary deLourdes and Evelyn Ann, were mentioned in the book, as was a very detailed description of the "Little Red House" in Yorktown where Glo and Russ lived. Sadly, that charming house built in the 1700s and described in minute detail by Marie ("everything was dry and there was that sweet odor of time that only really old houses have") turned out to be deadly; one late night in 1968 a faulty wire in the kitchen ignited a fire that quickly spread throughout the ancient wooden frame of the house. Gloria was able to rescue her two sons, but Mary and Evelyn were trapped on the third floor, along with their cousin Michelle Smiley (daughter of Little Marie), and the three children perished in the blaze.

Glo and Russ were married for just over 40 years and died within three months of one another in 2001/02. They are survived by their two sons. Little Marie divorced Ronald Smiley and eventually remarried. Rory is married and lives in Seattle. Kristin married her high school sweetheart, Simon Viltz, and lives in Illinois. Karen lives on her own in a specially equipped apartment and works as a secretary at a Catholic Retreat. Big Marie died in 1991 of respiratory failure (she'd previously battled two bouts of lung cancer), and her beloved husband, Jimmy, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, passed away two years later.

So that's the follow-up story behind one of my favorite books. What are your favorite "based on a true story" or biographical books? Do you have a particular story that you once read and have occasionally wondered "I wonder whatever happened to"¦.?" This is your opportunity to send the mental_floss staff on a research mission and perhaps enlighten many other readers who have similarly wondered in silence.

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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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