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11 Celebrity Marathoners

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Next Monday, 25,000 people will gather in Hopkinton, Mass., for the start of the 113th Boston Marathon, the world's oldest annual marathon. When they cross the finish line, they'll join the ranks of the likes of Michael Dukakis, Mario Lopez, Lisa Ling, and Ali Landry, all of whom have navigated the same hilly, 26.2-mile course. Here are 11 other celebrities who have gone the distance at marathons throughout the world.

1. Oprah Winfrey

Wearing bib No. 40 to match her age, Winfrey finished the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, in 4 hours, 29 minutes, and 20 seconds. "This is better than an Emmy," Winfrey said after fulfilling a promise she made to herself eight years prior. Winfrey trained for 20 weeks leading up to the race with personal trainer Bob Greene, who ran alongside her. The race was filmed for a future episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, during which Winfrey introduced the marathon's female winner, Susan Malloy.

2. Will Ferrell

ferrell.jpgFerrell, the actor and comedian who famously demonstrated his athletic prowess while streaking half-naked down a street in Old School, has run three marathons. The former Saturday Night Live star and his wife, Viveca, ran the New York City Marathon in 2001, finishing in 5 hours, 1 minute, and 6 seconds. Ferrell ran the Stockholm Marathon in 2002 and broke the 4-hour barrier at the Boston Marathon in 2003. In a 2008 interview, Ferrell described a lasting memory from his race in Stockholm, which was run on a very hot day: "I came around this corner, I'm in the last stretch just barely hanging on, and this woman offers me a salted pickle for refreshment. Just the sight of it, I almost lost it."

3. Katie Holmes

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Holmes ran the 2007 New York City Marathon in 5 hours, 29 minutes, and 58 seconds. Or did she? In the days that followed, websites such as Defamer and Gawker offered half-baked conspiracy theories that suggested Holmes didn't run the entire race. Holmes entered the race under an alias so that she wouldn't draw too much attention to herself beforehand, but her actual name is listed in the race results.

4. George W. Bush and 5. Sarah Palin

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Distraught after his father was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1992 Presidential Election, George W. Bush turned to running. "I decided I was going to set a little project for myself," Bush told Runner's World in 2002. That project was training for the 1993 Houston Marathon, which Bush finished in 3 hours, 44 minutes, and 52 seconds. There's no word on whether Bush, who said that running helped teach him not to be so compulsive, will plan a similar project after the Republican Party's latest defeat. If he does, he has a potential training partner in Sarah Palin, who ran the Humpy's Marathon in Anchorage in 2005 in less than 4 hours.

6. Buster Martin

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Martin, a van cleaner for a plumbing service in London, completed the London Marathon in 2008 at the age of 94 or 101, depending on who you believe. Martin, who finished the race in 10 hours, claims he was 101, which would make him the oldest man to complete a marathon. Guinness World Records has refused to recognize the feat, however, because it is impossible to verify Martin's age. Martin, who was recognized as the UK's oldest employee in 2006, has two birth dates registered with the British National Health Service, and officials at Guinness have reason to believe that he was actually born in 1913. According to Guinness, Greek runner Dimitrion Yordanidis became the oldest man to complete a marathon when he did so in Athens in 1976 at the age of 98.

7. Sean "Diddy" Combs

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If you decide to train for a marathon, don't do as Diddy did. Entering the 2003 New York City Marathon to raise money for charity was a good idea; allowing only two months to train for the race was not. "I think the hardest part of training for me has been changing my lifestyle," said Diddy, who, in addition to working with celebrity trainer Mark Jenkins, trained with three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar. "Cutting back on being out late, partying, working in the studio late, changing my diet." Running on an injured knee, Diddy finished the race in 4 hours and 14 minutes. USA Track & Field selected Diddy as its Athlete of the Week after he raised $2 million for children's charities leading up to the race.

8. Teddy Roosevelt

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Teddy's well-documented streak of futility in the mid-game Presidents' Race at Washington Nationals games continued at the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon, where the lovable loser proved that it's not always about winning and losing, but finishing the race. With security detail running alongside him, Teddy completed the marathon on the eve of his 150th birthday in 6 hours, 26 minutes, and 49 seconds, which was good enough for 17,944th place. If nothing else, he served as motivation for some of the slower participants in the race, who could either muster the energy to pass Teddy over the course of the final few miles or fall asleep that night knowing that they finished behind a guy with a 40-pound head.

9. Lance Armstrong

lance.jpgAfter he overcame cancer to win the Tour de France a record seven times, you could excuse Armstrong for thinking that his first marathon would be a breeze. Armstrong met his goal of breaking 3 hours at the 2006 New York City Marathon, but was humbled by the experience. "For the level of condition that I have now, that was without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever done," said Armstrong, who finished 856th in 2 hours, 59 minutes, and 36 seconds. "I never felt a point where I hit the wall, it was really a gradual progression of fatigue and soreness." Armstrong shaved 13 minutes off his time in the 2007 New York City Marathon. After he finished last year's Boston Marathon in 2:50:58, Armstrong jokingly asked, "Where's the flat marathons? Anybody know?"

10. Michael Waltrip and 11. Kyle Petty

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Petty and Waltrip have done their parts to dispel the belief that NASCAR drivers aren't athletes. Moving at roughly 7 miles per hour instead of their customary 200, the duo ran the 2005 Las Vegas Marathon to raise money for charity. Waltrip, a marathon veteran, finished in 3 hours, 56 minutes, while Petty, who was running his first marathon, finished in 4:16. "The wind was horrendous, but I enjoyed the race," Waltrip said. "I don't know if I could have run any faster." He then thanked his pit crew.

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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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