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The Quick 10: 10 Pats Born on St. Patrick's Day

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I know St. Patrick's Day isn't until tomorrow, but I thought I'd give you some conversation fodder in advance. You know, just in case some of you plan to be out enjoying some Guinness and Jameson instead of obsessively refreshing mental_floss. Who knows, maybe you'll even get a free drink out of it (assuming you're of the legal drinking age, of course): ask your friends to name a Pat born on St. Patrick's Day, and if they can't, they owe you a drink. Trust me, it'll sound like a great idea after you've already had a few.

BOBBY1. Patrick Duffy. Bobby Ewing's alter ego was born on March 17, 1949. And here's a totally random fact about Mr. Duffy: his nephew is Barry Zito, pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.
2. Patty Maloney. This particular Patty is an actress with dwarfism who stands just three feet, 11 inches tall. She has appeared in many movies and T.V. shows over the years, including operating the Crypt Keeper puppet in Tales from the Crypt. She was also in The Star Wars Holiday Special.
3. Pattie Boyd. Pattie is well-known to lovers of classic rock: she was married twice, once to George Harrison and once to Eric Clapton, who in turn wrote a couple of the most romantic songs in rock history in her honor (The Beatles' "Something" and Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight"). Boyd was a model when she met Harrison on the set of A Hard Day's Night in 1964; the pair were married two years later. They divorced in 1977 and she married Clapton, Harrison's close friend, in 1979. She also had an affair with Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones toward the end of her marriage to The Quiet Beatle.

4. Mathew St. Patrick.

You might not know this actor by name, but I had to include him for obvious reasons. OK, it is a stage name "“ he was actually born Patrick Matthews. Anyway, St. Patrick was on All My Children for a couple of years in the late "˜90s/early "˜00s, but I know him best as David's boyfriend Keith on Six Feet Under.

5. Pat Rice. Pat Rice is a man from Belfast who has made his career with Arsenal F.C. (that's "football club," AKA soccer to us Americans) since 1964. He joined the Gunners in 1964 as a mere apprentice, turning pro a couple of years later. He became captain in 1977 and left the club for a few years in the early "˜80s, but returned to them after he retired from playing in 1984. Since then, he's been coaching Arsenal in various capacities. He's currently the assistant manager.

6. Patrick Adams. He may not be a household name, but the recording artists he writes for and helps produce certainly are. Adams has been involved in the careers of Salt-N-Pepa, Sister Sledge, R. Kelly, Gladys Knight, Rick James and Coolio, among others.

7. Patrick McDonnell. It's possible you look at Patrick McDonnell's work every day, depending on what comics your newspaper carries (and if you read the comics every day, I guess. I do.). McDonnell draws a strip called Mutts featuring a couple of house pets - a dog and a cat - named Earl and Mooch, respectively. Charles Schulz called it one of the best comic strips of all time.

corgan8. Billy Corgan. That's Billy Patrick Corgan, actually. You probably know Billy "“ he's the face of the Smashing Pumpkins, he engages in public feuds with Courtney Love and maybe dated Jessica Simpson last year. He made his debut on St. Patrick's Day, 1967.
9. Princess Patricia of Connaught. Princess Patricia was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria who gave up all of her royal titles when she married a commoner. She was born at Buckingham Palace on St. Patrick's Day in 1886.
10. Patricia Ford. Ford is a retired model probably best known for her Playboy photoshoots in the '90s.

If you had a kid on St. Patrick's Day, would you pay homage by giving your child a Patrick-derived name? Are you a Patrick or Patricia born on St. Patrick's Day? And if you really do get a free drink out of this, be sure to come back and let me know tomorrow. I'm teetotaling this year and would be thrilled to know that someone was able to put this to good use.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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