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The Quick 10: 10 Famous People Related to Other Famous People

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I tried to stay away from the really obvious here "“ like Kate Hudson is Goldie Hawn's daughter and that sort of thing. I think a couple slipped by me anyway"¦ what's obvious to everyone else is not always obvious to me (I bet a lot of you already knew #3 and #7).

loren1. Abe Lincoln and Tom Hanks. Before Abe's mom married his dad, Thomas, she was Nancy Hanks. Tom has said in multiple interviews that he's distantly related to her, although I've never heard him mention specifics.
2. Sophia Loren was once sister-in-law to Mussolini's son. Romano Mussolini married Sophia's sister, Anna Maria Villani Scicolone, in 1962.
3. Richard Nixon's daughter married Dwight D. Eisenhower's grandson. This one is pretty well-known. Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower met at the 1956 Republican National Convention. They married after her father was elected but before he took office.
4. Humphrey Bogart and Princess Diana were seventh cousins, twice removed.

5. Jason Patric from The Lost Boys (and other things, but The Lost Boys is my favorite) has a couple of famous relatives. His dad was Jason Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award nominee. If you've seen The Exorcist, you'll remember him as Father Karras. Patric's grandpa was Jackie Gleason "“ his mother was Gleason's daughter, Linda.

6. Jean-Paul Sartre was first cousin, once-removed to Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer. His mother, Anne-Marie Schweitzer, was Albert's first cousin.

7. Warren Beatty and Shirley MacLaine are brother and sister. They grew up in Virginia where Warren was a star football player. He decided to try acting once he saw Shirley's success.

8. Val Kilmer is second cousins with American poet Joyce Kilmer, best remembered for his piece Trees ("I think that I shall never see A poem as lovely as a tree.").

9. Helena Bonham Carter's great grandfather, H.H. Asquith, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916.

10. Richard Gere's forefathers came over on the Mayflower. His ancestors include Francis Eaton, John Billington, George Soule, Richard Warren, Degory Priest, William Brewster and Francis Cooke. President James Garfield was also a descendant of John Billington. Richard Warren is known to have thousands of descendants, as he had seven children who all survived to adulthood. Some of his famous relatives include Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin Roosevelt, Alan Shepard, the Wright Brothers and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Similarly, Degory Priest's descendants include FDR, Orson Scott Card, Maria Mitchell, Pete Seeger and Dick Van Dyke. Seth MacFarlane is one of Brewster's descendants and Francis Cooke has a ton of notable relatives: Orson Welles, Julia Child, Wild Bill Hickok, Grandma Moses, Johnny Carson, Dane Cook, Kris Kristofferson, Pete Seeger, William Washburn, and the Wilson brothers from the Beach Boys.

OK, a lot of us probably come from passengers on the Mayflower, but it's pretty interesting to read about anyway. At least I think it is. Do you have any famous relatives in your family? I heard once that my family was related to Grover Cleveland somewhere but have never seen the proof.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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