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Secrets Between the Sexes

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Men and women are in a constant struggle to better understand the complex inner workings of one another's minds. Science has done its part to help us separate the fact from fiction, and some of the results may surprise you. Do men actually like skinny women with long legs? What makes a woman like a man who appears masculine over a feminine-looking man, or vice versa? Read on to find out.

Does (Body) Size Matter?

While some women think men are obsessed with skinny, waifish women, men seem to be more attracted to curvy girls like Christina Hendricks and Marilyn Monroe. This has been backed up by a number of studies, including one performed by Scotland's St. Andrews University that showed men don't like skinny women nearly as much as more average-sized women, and many seemed to think size zero women look unhealthy.

As for curvy women, it seems that men's brains respond to hourglass figures like they are a drug. While it has long been said that shapely hips have been attractive to men because they are better for carrying children, a study by Georgia Gwinnett College showed that curvy women's bodies activate parts of the male mind that are associated with rewards and parts of the brain that are activated by drugs and alcohol.

[Image courtesy of ·S's Flickr Stream.]

The Skinny on Showing Skin

Women often think that the more skin they reveal, the more attention they will get from men, but this may not be true. A study by the University of Leeds watched social interactions between men and women at one of the most popular clubs in London.

The researchers considered the arms to be 20% of the body, legs to be 30% of the body, and the torso to be 50% of the body, and they concluded that men found women who covered up too much of their bodies to only be half as attractive as those who displayed around 40% of their skin. The most interesting part of the study, though, was that men felt women who showed more than that were "too available," and were often overlooked for those who seemed a little more modest.

[Image courtesy of rockabillyboy72's Flickr stream.]

Hard to Get Men by Playing Hard to Get?

Along those same lines, the stories about men wanting a girl who's hard to get are somewhat true"¦but not completely. Men want someone who's hard for anyone to get, but they don't want a woman who is hard for them to get. University of Wisconsin researchers showed men photos of women and told them that the girl already saw and reviewed images of the participant and three other men. Each girl was presented as not being interested in any of the men, being interested in all of the men, only being interested in the test subject, or no information was provided about her woman.

Men were overwhelmingly uninterested in both the women who were interested in all participants and none of the participants. The great majority of men were interested in the woman who was only into them. They seemed to think she would have the good qualities of the easy-to-get women and the good qualities of the hard-to-get women, believing she was warm, easygoing and not demanding or difficult.

[Image courtesy of  Denis Malka's Flickr stream.]

Long Legs, Less Love?

For years we've been told that men love long, long legs. But according to a study performed by the University of California and the University of Westminister, men like women who have legs proportional to their body. Men and women were shown images of computer generated body images of women and asked to rate them on their attractiveness. The further the length of the legs got from an ideal 1:1 ratio of body to leg length, the less attractive men judged them to be.

Stereotypes held fast when it came to what women believed men would like, and they seemed to consistently agree that the men would find longer legged women attractive.

[Image courtesy of Lovro67's Flickr stream.]

Little More Than a Pretty Face

When people start looking for long-term mates, research says the body becomes less and less important -- for both sexes. University of Japan researcher Tomas E. Currie noted that while there have been hundreds of studies evaluating how men and women evaluate the importance of specific body parts, there were relatively few examining the importance of one feature over another. He decided to also examine if these factors changed based on what type of relationship the person was looking for.

The results showed that men cared a lot about bodies when looking for a short term relationship, but they cared more about faces when looking for something long term. Women seemed to consistently look for attractive faces whether looking for a short or long term thing. The body was just an extra bonus in either case.

[Image courtesy of Sugaro Pictures' Flickr stream.]

What Women Want, Based On Healthcare

Speaking of what women want, this is a very gray area and is said to change from woman to woman and even be inconsistent among a single individual. Unsurprisingly, there have been tons of studies trying to figure out exactly what the softer sex is interested in.

One study, completed by Wake Forest University psychologist Dustin Wood and Claudia Brumbaugh of Queens College, even confirmed the fact that while men are largely in agreement about who they find to be attractive, women have no consensus with one another. While men would largely agree about how attractive a given image of a woman was, the scores from women would be all over the board.

Perhaps the real reason for these major differences is the reason women seem to prefer masculine or feminine men. A study by the University of Aberdeen recently showed women located throughout the world images of men and asked them to evaluate based on attractiveness. Each set of images contained two pictures per male subject. In one of them, he was digitally altered to look more masculine and in the other, he was altered to look more feminine. The researchers noticed that women who had access to better healthcare preferred feminine men, while those who had less-quality health services were attracted to more masculine men.

Researchers speculated that historically women have liked masculine men with a square jaw and low brow because they were more likely to help produce healthy offspring. On the other hand, more effeminate-looking men seem more likely to help raise the children. It seems that once health concerns are out of the way, women tend to shift their interest to those men who appear to be more nurturing.

[Image courtesy of SpreePiX - Berlin's Flickr stream.]

Problems With The Pill

Of course, healthcare isn't the only thing that affects how a woman sees men. As it turns out, women may also notice a striking difference in their attraction to men after going on the birth control pill.

Men and women are largely attracted to one another due to pheromones and scent, but a study by the University of Liverpool shows the pill can drastically alter the scent a woman is attracted to. Additionally, once she quits taking the pill, she may revert to her old sensory guides and start finding her existing partner to be less attractive.

[Image courtesy of Blmurch's Flickr stream.]
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Of course, it's important to remember that these studies just take into account the overall feelings of a group of men or women and there are always going to be people who disagrees with the general populace.

Now, there are plenty more studies about men and women -- way too many for me to read, let alone include in this article -- but I'm sure many of you have seen some interesting ones. So let's hear them. What's the most surprising study you've heard about?

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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]