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The Origins of 9 Charities Named After People

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We often write their names on the "Pay to the Order of" lines of our donation checks, but how well do we know the inspiring people behind some of our favorite charities and foundations? A lot of charitable foundations are named after the celebrities or high-profile business tycoons who founded them, but others are named after the people who inspired their formations or generous souls with lower public profiles. Let's take a look at a few of these folks and their namesake charities:

1. Susan G. Komen for the Cure
The breast cancer research charity is named after Susan G. Komen, a Peoria, IL, native who received a breast cancer diagnosis at age 33 and died three years later in 1980. Komen's younger sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker (pictured), started the foundation in 1982 to help fund speedier breast cancer research.

2. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
In 1981 Elizabeth Glaser, the wife of Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.

Sadly, both of Glaser's children also contracted the infection from their mother, and in 1988 daughter Ariel lost her fight with AIDS. Her daughter's death prompted Glaser to work with two friends, Susan DeLaurentis and Susie Zeegan, to start a new foundation to combat the spread of AIDS among children. Although Glaser passed away in 1994, the foundation is still running strong.

3. Fisher House Foundation

This foundation, which provides temporary housing for military families when a member of the armed forces or their dependents needs extended medical care, is named after its founders, Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher. Zachary Fisher, a prominent philanthropist, established the first house in Bethesda, MD, in 1990, and although he died in 1999, the foundation now runs 45 homes near military hospitals both in the U.S. and at foreign installations.

4. The Jimmy Fund
This Boston-based charity promotes cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was founded in 1948 when a group of baseball players from the Boston Braves visited a young cancer patient named Jimmy in the hospital. The visit was broadcast on the radio, and hundreds of New Englanders were so touched by the boy's fight against cancer that they started offering donations. Nearly $200,000 poured in to help support the research of the 12-year-old's doctor, and the Jimmy Fund took off.

einar-ted-williamsThe odd thing about this story: "Jimmy" wasn't actually named Jimmy. He was really a 12-year-old cancer patient named Einar Gustafson. Radio producers referred to him as "Jimmy" to protect the boy's anonymity, and the name stuck. Gustafson actually recovered from his childhood cancer and lived a quiet life of anonymity. Over the years, the fund's coordinators lost track of Gustafson and assumed that he had died, but in 1998 he returned for the The Jimmy Fund's 50th anniversary. Gustafson (pictured, at left, with Ted Williams) then appeared at fund events until his death in 2001.

5. The Fred Hollows Foundation
This foundation may not be so familiar to American readers, but it works to treat and prevent blindness in Australia, Asia, and Africa. It is named after Fred Hollows, a New-Zealand-born ophthalmologist who spent most of his career traveling tirelessly through remote parts of Australia and other countries helping to restore the sight of patients who might not otherwise have had access to an eye doctor. Today, the foundation provides, among other services, low-cost, high-volume cataract surgeries throughout the developing world.

6. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The foundation that sponsors the legendary MacArthur Fellows Program, also known as the "genius grants," was the brainchild of John D. MacArthur and his wife, Catherine. In 1935, MacArthur bought the Bankers Life and Casualty Company and quickly began buying out smaller companies to build a vast insurance empire. When MacArthur died in 1978, he established this foundation, which liquidated his business holdings and began using the funds to give grants to particularly promising thinkers and cultural institutions. (Meet the 2009 MacArthur Fellows.)

RW-Johnson7. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The largest American health philanthropy has an endowment that tops $10 billion, which it uses to dole out nearly $500 million a year in grants for health and health policy research. Robert Wood Johnson II was the mid-20th-century businessman who transformed Johnson & Johnson from a regional company into an international health products powerhouse. When he died in 1968, Johnson left most of his $400,000,000 estate to the foundation that bears his name.

8. The Pew Charitable Trusts
This Philadelphia-based non-profit is another one of America's biggest charities, with assets worth over $5 billion. It is the product of the unification of a number of charities started by the children of Joseph N. Pew, who founded the Sun Oil Company. Today the Trusts carry out missions as diverse as advocating for the establishment of protected marine areas, funding the Pew Research Center think tank, and sponsoring the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

9. The Starr Foundation
This charitable foundation takes its name from American Insurance Group founder Cornelius Vander Starr, who started the organization in 1955. The foundation is active in making grants in a variety of areas, including health care, scholarships, and educational/historical centers.

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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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