CLOSE
Original image

Olympics 2010: Skiing Solo for a Snowless Nation

Original image

Jamaica is not sending a bobsled team to Vancouver for the Winter Games, but the Caribbean nation will be represented by one skier. Several countries will have only one participant in the Olympics, because there are no winter sports to speak of in these tropical lands. Yet sometimes the work of one person keeps the Olympic dream alive.

Errol Kerr

Errol Kerr is the sole Olympian from Jamaica this year. Lack of funding eliminated any other contender. Alpine skier Kerr grew up in Truckee, California, a product of a Jamaican father and an American mother. Kerr's father died when he was 12. His mother is an avid skier who started Kerr on skis when he was four years old. Olympic training on a budget means that Kerr only skis in winter, while better-funded alpine skiers travel to higher slopes or the southern hemisphere to train in the off-season.

You can follow Kerr on Twitter or his blog.

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong

550_kwame

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong is nicknamed "the Snow Leopard". The alpine skier will be the first ever athlete representing Ghana at the winter Olympics. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland but grew up in Ghana. Nkrumah-Acheampong only learned to ski nine years ago when he got at job at a ski resort in Milton Keynes, England, where he skied on artificial snow. The Snow Leopard did not qualify for the Turin Olympics only because his plane to the qualifiers in Iran was delayed in Amsterdam due to ice on the wings. Nkrumah-Acheampong is active in promoting winter sports in Ghana as well as a charity that builds schools in Ghana and another organization dedicated to saving the snow leopard.

Follow Nkrumah-Acheampong's progress on Facebook, Twitter, or his blog.

Samir Azzimani

550_azzimani

Samir Azzimani was born in France to Moroccan parents. He took up skiing at age six during a period of his life as a foster child. The alpine skier will be the sole athlete from Morocco in Vancouver. Azzimani created the Moroccan Olympic Association on his own in 2001, but did not participate in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 due to insufficient funding. He was not in Turin 2006 due to an injury. But he will be in Vancouver next week to represent Morocco on the slopes.

Follow Azzimani's Olympic adventure on his blog.

Robel Teklemariam

550teklemariam

At the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics Friday, cross-country skier Robel Teklemariam will carry the flag for Ethiopia. He is the first winter Olympian ever from his country. Teklemariam came to the United States at age nine when his mother took a job with the UN in New York City and he fell in love with skiing the first time he tried it. He attended the University of New Hampshire on a full scholarship. This will be Teklemariam's second Olympic competition. He doesn't hold out much hope of winning a medal, but his goals are for the long term -he hopes to get more Ethiopians involved in skiing. Watch Teklemariam training in Ethiopia.

Follow Teklemariam on Twitter, Facebook, or his blog.

Dow Travers

550Travers_underwater

Dow Travers is the first ever winter Olympian from the Cayman Islands. That makes him a national hero in the tiny nation where the highest altitude is 141 feet above sea level! Travers learned to ski during family vacations in Beaver Creek, Colorado. The downhill skier is also a student at Brown University, where he plays on the rugby team and is majoring in geobiology. He has been training in Aspen for the Vancouver Olympics.

Follow Travers on Twitter.

Tucker Murphy

500tuckermurphy

Cross-country skier Tucker Murphy was supposed to be one of two Olympians from Bermuda, but countryman Patrick Singleton failed to qualify, leaving Murphy to carry the flag. Murphy graduated from Dartmouth, where he was on the rowing team as well as the ski team. He is attending Merton College at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. No Bermudan has ever competed in skiing events before at the Olympics.

Leyti Seck

540Leyti_Seck_OS

Vancouver will be the second time Leyti Seck represents Senegal all by himself. The 28-year-old alpine skier placed 55th in the Super-G in 2006 and hopes to do better this time around because of a scholarship from Olympic Solidarity that led to improved training opportunities. Seck attends the University of Salzburg in Austria where he can ski year-round. He doesn't expect to win any medals, but is striving  to achieve his personal best and to proudly represent Senegal.

Hubertus von Hohenlohe

500Hubertus_von_Hohenlohe

Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg is 51 years old, yet he qualified to represent Mexico as an alpine skier in Vancouver. Born in Mexico, he is a descendant of a royal family from an area that is now part of Germany. Von Hohenlohe grew up in Austria, where he had plenty of opportunity to ski. He now lives in Liechtenstein and holds dual Austrian and Mexican citizenship. The only Mexican athlete in Vancouver this year, von Hohenlohe also skied for Mexico in 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1994. He qualified in 2006, but the Mexican Olympic Committee declined to send any athletes to Turin. Besides skiing, von Hohenlohe is a photographer and records music under the name Andy Himalaya. See a bit of von Hohenlohe's life in this video.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image
iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES