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The Quick 10: 10 Famous Color Blind People

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You know that scene in Little Miss Sunshine when Dwayne finds out he's color blind and can't achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a jet pilot? That may have had some real-life inspiration (see #3 below). Here are 10 famous people who suffered from the same problem as Dwayne.

fred1. Mr. Rogers was totally red-green color blind and couldn't distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup. He asked a colleague to taste his soup one day and tell him what flavor he had gotten. Knowing that he liked both, she asked why he didn't just tuck in. "If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he said.
2. Samuel Clemens. At least, that's the word on the street "“ I couldn't find a good story to back it up.

3. Paul Newman wanted to be a pilot for the Navy. It was during the flight physical that he discovered he was color blind. Instead, Newman trained to be a radioman and a gunner and, obviously, eventually went on to become an actor.

4. Meat Loaf, on the other hand, tried to fail his Army physical by listing his numerous ailments: he was color blind, 68 pounds overweight, had a trick shoulder and was prone to concussions. He was drafted anyway.

5. Jack Nicklaus. As Sports Illustrated puts it, dude "couldn't tell you a green number from a red on a leader board if the winner's check depended on it."

BING6. Bing Crosby. Bing's loud clothing was fodder for many jokes back in the day "“ Bob Hope especially relished zinging Der Bingle for his bad taste. But it's no wonder that Bing picked out such tacky pieces "“ he was, quite literally, color blind. "He will think something is a beautiful blue," his wife once explained, "and it will turn out to be a bilious green."
7. Matt Lauer has a mild case of color-blindness, but that hasn't stopped him from being named best-dressed man on several lists, including Vanity Fair's.

8. Howie Mandel is color blind, which probably doesn't really hinder him in his job on Deal or No Deal. But back in the day when he was selling carpet, it could be a problem. "There were a lot of ugly homes in Toronto because of me," he said in an interview.

9. Emerson Moser. OK, he's not famous, but I felt his story was worth telling. Moser was Crayola's senior-most crayon maker: after 37 years of employment he had molded more than 1.4 billion crayons. It wasn't until he retired that he revealed a secret: his blue-green color blindness meant that he couldn't see all of the colors he was making.

10. Hugh Downs is also in the color blind club. His wife helped him with clothing choices by number-coding things - one group of items that went together would all have "1" on them; another group would be clustered by "2"s and so on.

Do you know of any others? Or are you color blind? If so, do you get sick of people asking "What color is this?" all of the time? Let us know about your experiences in the comments!


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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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