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10 Uncanny Sets of Birth Twins

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Blame astrology, numerology or just coincidence—some people who share a birthdate have more in common than the day they were born. Witness the following 10 sets of birth twins.

1. Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809)

Two of the outstanding figures of the 19th century were both raised as Christians, though Darwin died an atheist and Lincoln was, by some accounts, a non-believer. Both had unimpressive school records, but taught themselves to rise to the peaks of their professions. Both embraced change and detested slavery. Darwin's most important work, On the Origin of Species, was published in 1859 "“ one year before Lincoln was elected president. With these events, both would challenge the status quo "“ changing the world, and winning enemies for their efforts. (Darwin would be denounced; Lincoln would be assassinated.)

2. Jimmy Hoffa and James Pike (February 14, 1913)

Hoffa was a powerful and contentious unionist, alleged to have ties with organized crime. Pike was the contentious Episcopal bishop of California, alleged to have extramarital affairs. Both were known as champions of the underprivileged. Hoffa bargained for low-paid workers and campaigned for prison reform; Pike supported the civil rights movement. Hoffa was finally convicted of fraud and jury tampering in 1967, serving four years in prison; Pike was tried for heresy for his radical ideas, which resulted in the formal censure of his views. But most spookily of all: They both disappeared mysteriously. (Pike's body was found a few days later; Hoffa was never seen again.) Neither of their demises were ever solved.

3. Marlon Brando and Doris Day (April 3, 1924)

The evil twin syndrome (though we're not sure which was the evil one). At their peak in the 1950s, they were polar opposites. Brando played rebellious, tough guys who mumbled everything. Day played wholesome, virginal sweeties who sang beautifully. But they had a few things in common. Both of their careers were the result of a misspent youth (Brando took up acting after being thrown out of a military academy; Day was singing in clubs at 16.) Both had reputations for being "difficult." Brando came to the movies as a famous actor, but proved he could sing (sort of) in Guys and Dolls. Day entered movies as a famous singer, but proved she could act in Storm Warning. Both became attached to important social causes (Brando to the plight of Native Americans; Day to animal rights).

4. President George W. Bush and Sylvester Stallone (July 6, 1946)

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These two have more in common than you might realize. Their oratorical skills have been criticized, but at their peaks, both were immensely popular. Their secret: people love a war"¦ provided they win. They each have a past that they would rather forget. In the early 1970s, Bush had a drinking problem and multiple arrests; Stallone (as a struggling actor) was debasing himself in a skin flick. Bush has a history of failed business ventures; Stallone has had his own corporate disasters, like Planet Hollywood, his ill-fated co-venture with two of Bush's friends, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone's two most famous roles also seem perfect for Bush. Like Rocky, Bush was an underdog, who triumphed (in the 2000 presidential election) without actually outscoring his opponent; and like Rambo, he has been keen to settle old military scores. Of course, neither Bush nor Stallone are as popular as they used to be, proving that celebrity is fickle business, however you achieve it.

5. Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon and Christo Javacheff (June 13, 1935)

Few birth twins have proven more compatible than these two artists, who have collaborated on many projects over the past 40 years, and have been happily married even longer. They are exponents of environmental installation art, famous for wrapping Berlin's Reichstag and the Paris's Pont Neuf Bridge in plastic, as well as such public artworks as Running Fence, a 24-mile-long curtain in California, and The Gates in New York City's Central Park.

6. Princess Diana and Carl Lewis (July 1, 1961)

They were among the biggest celebrities of the 1980s, winning overnight fame early in the decade "“ despite unlikely beginnings. As a child, years before becoming the world's most photographed person, Diana was notoriously shy; Lewis, years before winning nine Olympic gold medals, was a "runt." (Strangely, Diana showed more athletic prowess than Lewis at school, excelling in several sports.) Both became renowned for their charity work. After Princess Diana's death in 1997, "King Carl" wrote a tribute to her: "She will be missed by the many that she touched. And our birthday will never be as bright."

7. Albert Finney and Glenda Jackson (May 9, 1936)

Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts graduates? Check. Made their film debuts in early-1960s British "kitchen sink" dramas? Check. Became major stars in raunchy, Oscar-winning adaptations of classic British novels? Check. Turned down several film roles throughout their careers to focus on the theatre? Che-e-eck. Hey, these twins could almost be the same person! In fact, have you ever wondered why you've never seen them in the same film together?

8. Meryl Streep and Lindsay Wagner (June 22, 1949)

The super-woman of American stage and screen... and the star of The Bionic Woman on TV! How could that possibly be mere coincidence?

9. Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross (June 22, 1947)

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Though these actors are best-known for playing a happily married couple in the classic 1980s sitcom Family Ties, they were actually (birth) twins. They're not the only twins who have worked together in television and the movies, of course. Oliver Stone directed Tommy Lee Jones twice, while Quincy Jones wrote music for The Italian Job (1969), starring his birth twin Michael Caine.

10. Andre Agassi and Uma Thurman (April 29, 1970)

One moment "“ like 1994 "“ you're riding high and everyone thinks you're sexy. A few years later, you're a has-been, ranked 141st in the world (or making appalling movies like Batman and Robin), but at least you're married to a former teen star like Brooke Shields (or Ethan Hawke). A few years later "“ like 2003 "“ you have broken up with your ex-teen-star spouse, but at least you're back in form. You're number one in the rankings (or high in the box office), decimating (or slicing to bits) your opponents in court (or in the Kill Bill movies). Oh, and everyone still thinks you're sexy.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at markjuddery.com.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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