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The Quick 10: 10 Fulbright Scholars

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It was August 1, 1946, that then-President Harry Truman signed the Fulbright Program into law. Suggested by Senator J. William Fulbright, the program was designed to use war surplus to allow students to experience and exchange ideas with other cultures.
Business has been booming ever since "“ more than a quarter of a million people have participated in the program, and a lot of those alumni have gone on to do some pretty big things. Here are a few of them!

heller1. Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, was a Fulbright scholar who studied at Oxford from 1949-1950.
2. Stefan Sagmeister is the graphic designer responsible for the Rolling Stones' Bridges to Babylon album cover, David Byrne's Feelings album cover, and Lou Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling cover (among lots of other things). He arrived at Pratt Institute in New York in 1987 thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.
3. Milton Glaser is another graphic designer, although is work is decidedly different than Sagmeister's. He's the man who created the famous (infamous?) I Heart NY logo seen on 5-for$10 t-shirts everywhere. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Bologna during his Fulbright scholarship.

4. Melissa Block, the host of NPR's All Things Considered, studied at the University of Geneva for a year after she graduated from Harvard in 1983, thanks to her Fulbright.

5. Jonathan Franzen is the author of various books, including The Corrections, which you might remember from Oprah's Book Club several years ago. Or rather, from the fact that Franzen rejected Oprah's when she said that his book had been selected as her next pick. Franzen attended Berlin's Freie Universität as a Fulbright fellow in 1982.

6. John Lithgow might seem pretty silly, but he's also pretty smart: he went to Harvard and was awarded a Fulbright grant upon graduation. He used it to study at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, which has clearly served him well.

sylvia7. Sylvia Plath won a Fulbright scholarship in 1955 and used it to study at Cambridge. Cambridge is where she met fellow poet and future husband Ted Hughes, whom many fans credit with driving her to finally kill herself (after many attempts) in 1963, so depending on your point of view about that you could see the Fulbright as a blessing or a curse.
8. Renée Fleming, one of the greatest opera singers of our time (and probably ever), had the privilege of studying under sopranos Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Arleen Auger in West Germany from 1984-1985, thanks to her Fulbright.

9. Philip Glass, the composer, is sort of like a Super Fulbright Scholar. Not only did he win a scholarship in 1964 "“ he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and liked it so much, he stayed in Europe for another 18 months. Just earlier this year, Glass was awarded the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, distinguishing him from all of the other Fulbright alumni with impressive careers.

10. And to prove that not all Fulbright scholars go on to do wonderful things, we have Joseph Corbett, Jr. Corbett earned himself a place on the FBI's Most Wanted list for kidnapping "“ and later murdering "“ Adolph Coors III, the 44-year-old heir to the Coors beer fortune. He had been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Oregon about 10 years prior to the 1960 kidnapping and murder.

And in an unrelated note (I'm certainly not a Fulbright scholar), if you were following me on Twitter, my name has changed "“ the old one got hacked so Twitter suspended it. If you're interested in my babble, I'm now going by the name of MadameLeota. I can't promise I'll entertain you, but I often entertain myself.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]