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A Salute to Southpaws for Left-Handers' Day

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Because the definition of left-handedness varies so much from study to study, it has been estimated that anywhere from 7 to 30 percent of the population is left-handed. It is generally accepted that around 10% of the population currently consider themselves lefties. Unfortunately, language and superstitions have led to misunderstandings and many people hide their left-handedness as a result.

In an effort to bring pride to the neglected and mistreated southpaws of the world, August 13 has been named Left-Handers' Day, and boy, are there tons of famous people who deserve some praise for surviving our world of biased right-handed tools, such as scissors, computer mice and guitars.

Presidents

Four out of the last five American presidents have been left-handed (all except George W. Bush), although Ronald Reagan largely hid his left-preference because his parents and teachers had urged him to suppress it.

While some people have dismissed this information as coincidence, others have recognized its statistical significance and tried to discover why such a disproportionate number of presidents (in recent years), Nobel Prize winners, artists, writers, architects, musicians and mathematicians are left-handed. Most people process language on the left side of their brains, but left-handers process language on both sides of the brain much more frequently than righties. Many people have theorized that this means there is an increased amount of space dedicated to language skills in these individuals. Some people have also suggested that this means these individuals are also capable of more complex reasoning.

Another theory says that left-handers have to find solutions to surviving in a right-dominated world, which provides these individuals with extra mental resilience.

Captains of Industry and Invention

Regardless of the reason that southpaws seem to rise to the top, a number of studies have proven that they are often more intelligent than their right-handed counterparts. In fact, one study showed that 20% of the top-scoring students in the SATs are lefties, which is double their representative population. Another study discovered that righties who attend college but do not complete their degrees are 15% poorer than lefties in the same boat. Of those that do graduate, the discrepancy increases to 25%.

Many successful inventors and captains of industry were left-handed, including Benjamin Franklin and Henry Ford, or ambidextrous, such as Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein.

Funny People

While sense of humor is probably not improved by handedness, the idea that lefties are better at communicating could also explain why there are so many funny people who are southpaws. Famed left-handed comedians include David Letterman, Jay Leno, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Larry Fine, Drew Carey, Tim Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Carol Burnett, Howie Mandel, Harpo Marx, Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and, although he's not technically a comedian, it's hard to deny that Matt Groening is a funny guy.

Theatrical Artists

Actors, of course, also need to communicate at a higher level than the average person, and there's an astounding number of celebrity lefties in this field as well. The list includes Matthew Broderick, Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Greta Garbo, Whoopi Goldberg, Cary Grant, Mark Hamill, Goldie Hawn, Jim Henson, Rock Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Lisa Kudrow, Cloris Leachman, Shirley MacLaine, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Perry, Robert Redford, Keanu Reeves, Julia Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater, Dick Van Dyke, Wil Wheaton, Bruce Willis and Oprah Winfrey.

Image courtesy of bryanearl's Flickr stream.

Musicians

Jimi Hendrix is perhaps the most famous lefty guitarist—he used a flipped-over right-handed guitar throughout his career—but he is by no means the only famous southpaw musician you know. Lefty composers include Bach and Rachmaninoff. As for rockers, a few popular left-handers include David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Phil Collins, Billy Corgan, Dick Dale, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Joe Perry and Johnny Rotten.

Artists

Similarly, some of the most gifted artists we know and admire are also lefties, including M.C. Escher, Michelangelo, Raphael , and Leonardo da Vinci. Renoir was not a dedicated left-hander, but he was known for painting for a bit of time with his southpaw anyway.

Athletes

While there are famous left-handers in all sports, baseball seems to have the honor of having the most lefty celebrities.

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Some famous lefty baseball players you may recognize include Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Darryl Strawberry. You might notice that most of these players are known for being great at hitting, and there's a reason for that: batters have an advantage when the pitcher is throwing with the opposite hand, and since most people are righties, left-handed batters have all the luck.

Boxers also have an advantage if they adopt the southpaw stance (the right foot in front of the left) against an opponent with a standard right-handed pose. That's part of the reason Oscar de la Hoya and Reggie Johnson have fared so well in the sport. And while he's not a real person, it is worth noting that Rocky Balboa was also a lefty.

Great Warriors

In the same way that many lefty athletes have an advantage over their righty counterparts, warriors also experience this, as most fighters will only be accustomed to fighting someone who is right-handed. It shouldn't be too surprising then that some of the best known military leaders in history were left-handed, including Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Are you a lefty? If so, how are you planning to celebrate? Might be time to treat yourself to that new lefty can opener.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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