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The Quick 10: 10 People Who Have Won a Grammy, a Tony, an Oscar and an Emmy

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It's obviously a huge accomplishment to win an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony or an Emmy. But to win all four? That's a feat so rare that only 10 people have ever accomplished it "“ at least, so far. Here they are:

1. Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame was the first to achieve all four and received the last of the awards "“ an Emmy for the music he composed for the made for T.V. movie Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years "“ in 1962. The Academy Award came from State Fair's "It Might as Well Be Spring," the first Grammy was for The Sound of Music album and his first Tony was for South Pacific.
2. Helen Hayes topped her Oscar, Emmy and Tony off with a Grammy in 1976 for the Best Spoken Word Recording for Great American Documents. Helen has something that most of the other entertainers on this list don't, though: a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her by Ronald Reagan in 1986.

3. Rita Moreno is making me eat my words, though, because she also has a Presidential Medal of Freedom. To be fair, they are the only two on the list who do. Rita was awarded hers in 2004 by George W. Bush. Her Oscar was for West Side Story, of course, and her Tony was for The Ritz. It's her Grammy and Emmy awards that I think are the coolest, though: her Best Recording for Children Grammy was for The Electric Company and her first Emmy was for her appearance on The Muppet Show!

4. John Gielgud is the only British entertainer to have achieved all four awards "“ a Tony for directing Big Fish, Little Fish in 1961, a Best Spoken Word Grammy for Ages of Man in 1979, the Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Special Emmy for Summer's Lease, and the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1981's Arthur.

audrey5. Audrey Hepburn shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, although the Grammy might throw you for a loop. Everyone's favorite ingénue won her only Oscar for Roman Holiday opposite Gregory Peck in 1953. The Tony came just a year later "“ Best Actress in the play Ondine. Then she proved that she was still amazing 40 years later when she won an Emmy in 1993 for Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn and a Grammy in 1994 for her spoken word children's album Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales.
6. Marvin Hamlisch, composer, has all of these awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (A Chorus Line). His Tony was also for scoring the same musical. He can thank Barbra Streisand for his other three awards "“ or maybe she should thank him for hers (we'll get to that in a second). He won three Oscars in 1973 "“ two for The Way We Were and one for The Sting. Two of his four Emmys were for 1995's Barbra Streisand: The Concert. And his first Grammy was for the Song of the Year in 1974 "“ The Way We Were, obviously.

7. Jonathan Tunick received all four awards for accomplishments in composing and arranging over a span of 20 years, but what you probably know him best for is the most recent award that completed the superfecta for him "“ the orchestration of the 1997 Titanic musical (not the 1997 DiCaprio-Winslet sobfest).

brooks8. Mel Brooks can chalk most of his awards up to The Producers and his guest appearances on Mad About You in the "˜90s. His first award for Bialystock and Bloom was the 1968 Oscar for best screenplay. Then there was a bit of a lull in awards, but for three years running starting in 1997 he won Emmys for hanging out with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. In 1998 he won a Grammy for the Best Spoken Comedy Album The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000," and in 2001 he won three Tonys for the musical revival of The Producers. What, nothing for Blazing Saddles?

9. Mike Nichols, whom you also might know as Diane Sawyer's husband, has won most of his awards for directing or producing. But his very first "“ a 1961 Grammy "“ was won for his comedic performance on An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May. The first of his eight Tonys was for directing 1964's Barefoot in the Park and his only Oscar was for directing The Graduate in 1967. The Emmys are relatively new "“ 2001 for directing and producing Wit, and then the same Emmys in 2004 for Angels in America.

10. Whoopi Goldberg. This one was a bit of a shock to some of us here at the _floss, but it's true! Ghost earned the Whoopster her only Oscar to date, and she earned her Best Comedy Recording Grammy five years earlier in 1985. She received both her Emmy and her Tony in 2002; the Emmy was for Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Live of Hattie McDaniel. I never could have guessed what the Tony was for, but maybe you guys are more educated in Broadway matters than I am. Give up? It was for producing Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Now, about Barbra Streisand. She's debatable because she has never actually won a competitive Tony. She received a "special" Tony in 1970 that she didn't have to compete for. And the same goes for Liza Minelli, although her questionable award is the Grammy. She never received one by competition, but she did receive a "Grammy Legend" award in 1990. What do you think"¦ should they count?

Here's a list of some of the living people who have received three of the four "“ who do you think will be added to the Four Awards list next? Share with us in the comments!

No Tony:
Woody Allen
Julie Andrews (seriously?!)
Burt Bacharach
Randy Newman
Barbra (sort of)
John Williams
Robin Williams

No Grammy:
Liza (sort of)
Al Pacino
Vanessa Redgrave
Geoffrey Rush
Maggie Smith

No Emmy:
Elton John
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Tim Rice
Stephen Sondheim

No Oscar:
James Earl Jones
Cynthia Nixon
Lily Tomlin
Dick Van Dy

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.