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The Quick 10: 10 Ways to Boost Your Brain

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Everyone knows that sleeping well, exercise and playing sudoku can keep your brain in shape. But there are lots of ways you can flex your cerebral cortex, and these ten are pretty easy.

rainbow1. Chase the rainbow. Eating foods with naturally high color intensity (an indication of high antioxidant content) can inhibit the progression of age-related cognitive disorders in addition to lowering blood sugar, which also improves brain function. Common recommendations include blueberries, cranberries, red wine, and foods containing turmeric, like curry dishes.


2. Go hungry—at least for a day. Research has shown that routine fasting (one day a month) activates a unique form of glucose that helps the brain efficiently transmit information.

3. Read mental_floss. Gathering facts on a regular basis keeps your brain in shape by building new circuits and strengthening neural pathways. See, you did it just then. Don't you just love the _floss?

4. Ask Jeeves. Language, reading, and visual interpretation control centers show increased function during simple web searches in Internet-users aged 55-76. In those with more online experience, decision-making and complex-reasoning activity also experienced a boost.

snl5. Play along. Whether it's Cash Cab, Jeopardy!, or Don't Forget the Lyrics, recalling information you don't normally use improves long-term memory, recall and reasoning skills, so shout the answers out if you know them. (I do this; everyone hates it, but I rock at Trivial Pursuit.)


6. Brush the wrong way. Doing any routine activity with the non-dominant hand triggers parts of the brain responsible for learning, memorization, and motor control. You can make your brain smarter by switching up your tooth-brushing technique or practicing your penmanship with the wrong hand.

7. Turn up the Top 40. It isn't just classical music that can relieve stress hormones and ramp up production of feel-good serotonin (both of which improve your brain's ability to process and store information), so listen to whatever you like and know that your brain is benefiting.

8. Ooooohhhmm. Studies of meditating monks' brains show massive gamma wave activity (the signature of brain circuit connections being created); the study also showed increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the area associated with compassion, altruism and generosity.

dark9. Put some clothes on"¦ in the dark; use your hands to choose your clothes without looking. Using a different sense (touch instead of sight) as your primary source of information amps up your synaptic activity, which helps you think faster. (Dress via FredFlare)


10. Get jiggy with it. Sensory integration is paramount to brain development, and no activity uses all the senses quite like sex does. As an added bonus, you'll get a boost in serotonin, which relieves stress, increases feelings of happiness and well-being, and confidence—all of which increase brain efficiency.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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