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Real World Superheroes of the South

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Alternate universes and super powers may be limited to comic books, but costumed crusaders are everywhere in the real world. If they aren't fighting crime, they're doing good deeds, raising awareness, helping the downtrodden, setting an example, steering kids in the right direction, and generally making the world a better place, each in their own strange way. Here are a few that are based in the southern part of the United States.

Master Legend

Orlando, Florida

Master Legend goes on missions to find and help the homeless of Orlando. He began his superhero career in Winter Park, Florida. He works together with other Florida superheroes in both his missions and his music, as several heroes has formed a band called the Justice Force. The article The Legend of Master Legend was printed in Rolling Stone in 2008 and is reposted online at Real Life Superheroes. See a video featuring Master Legend at vimeo.

Danger Woman

Atlanta, Georgia

Danger Woman calls herself a "karaoke crimefighter". She's also a disability rights activist. Danger Woman is autistic and use her trusty microphone to give evil a headache with her singing. Her life and crusade against disaba-phobia (the fear of disabled people) is the subject of a documentary called Disabled But Able to Rock! Watch the trailer at YouTube (warning: singing). You can keep up with Danger Woman's activities through her MySpace blog.

Superhero

Clearwater, Florida

Superhero may have a generic name, but he's well known in Clearwater. A former professional wrestler, he roams the streets in his 1975 Corvette and helps stranded motorists. He also makes appearances to teach road safety and to raise money for various charities with a particular emphasis on helping the homeless.

Hardwire

Greensboro, North Carolina

There's not a lot of information on Hardwire, except that he used to go by the name Point Guardian and he's retired from the superhero scene. Hardwire appeared as himself in the 2008 movie Your Friendly Neighborhood Hero.

Daddy Man

Zachary, Louisiana

Daddy Man is a role model. His alternate identity is Ivy Butler of Zachary, Lousiana. He created the superhero persona first as an inspiration to his seven children, and became a hero to other children, then a role model for other fathers. You can keep up with Daddy Man's activities on his blog. Butler is the subject of the book The Chronicles of Daddy Man. Hear what Daddy Man has to say at YouTube.

Enigma

San Antonio, Texas

Enigma patrols San Antonio looking for any opportunity to do good. He posts his exploits at MySpace, where you can read about an incident earlier this year where he stopped a pair of car thieves. Enigma also lends his powers to environmental causes.

The Viper

Columbia, Tennessee

The Viper is a 20-year-old college student who dresses in green and patrols the streets of Columbia, Tennessee. The local police aren't impressed, and in fact warned him against wearing a mask in public. The Viper says, "I am just a guy trying to do what's right in tights." Columbia citizens think it's kind of neat to have a superhero in their small town.

Amazonia

Ocala, Florida

Amazonia has been working as a superhero since 2002, beginning in Lowell, Massachusetts and worked in both New York City and Ocala, Florida. She is now based in an "undisclosed location". Amazonia patrols the streets looking for opportunities to help people and takes part in activities such as blood drives, helping the homeless, and environmental activism. Read more on her blog.

DC Guardian

Washington, DC

DC Guardian is part of the Capital City Super Squad, a group of nine superheroes who patrol Washington. An Air Force veteran, he hands out copies of the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights to remind everyone of what it means to be an American.

KnightVigil

Tampa, Florida

KnightVigil also goes by the name Darian VanLansing, although that's not his true identity. He is a Christian superhero who works to provide needed food and clothing to the children of migrant workers in Florida.

The Crimson Fist

Atlanta, Georgia

The Crimson Fist turned to his superhero practice after years of drugs and alcohol. By day he's an IT programmer; by night he spends his time helping the homeless of Atlanta. He patrols the streets and hands out supplies such as bottled water and socks to those in need, using his own funds. He wishes he could do more:

"I think for the most part, it makes me feel good to do it, as selfish as it sounds. The biggest motivation is just helping people, it's enjoyable to me," he says. "And if it means a little sacrifice, I'm OK with that. Because if I didn't do it, I wouldn't feel whole."

Coming soon: Real World Superheroes from other parts of the US and the rest of the world.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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