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Real World Superheroes of the Midwest

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There are everyday folks who spend their free time anonymously helping their communities -anonymous because they are costumed superheroes! We already met some of these superheroes in the southern US; here are some who protect the cities of the Midwest.

Shadow Hare

Cincinnati. Ohio

Shadow Hare patrols the streets of Cincinnati and attends large public events to watch for crime in progress, sometimes even making citizen's arrests. He is trained in martial arts and has occasionally been injured in the line of duty. The local police force doesn't officially encourage Shadow Hare's activities, as they don't want a civilian to be hurt, but they don't condemn his behavior, either. The masked man has inspired other Cincinnati costumed heroes who form the group Allegiance of Heroes. Shadow Hare says he was an abused child and grew up in foster homes and therefore wants to make his community a better place for others. He is often seen lending aid to the homeless in addition to fighting crime and injustice. See Shadow Hare in a news report at YouTube.

Geist

Rochester, Minnesota

Geist patrols the streets of Rochester and Minneapolis to deter crime and works with many charities. In 2007, he stepped in to help flood victims in St. Charles, Lewiston, Rushford and Stockton, Minnesota. His favorite causes are Paws and Claws animal shelter and the Ronald McDonald House. Geist is a co-founder of the Great Lakes Heroes Guild.

Foxfire

Royal Oak, Michigan

Foxfire is a female superhero who promotes the use of the supernatural to fight crime and injustice. From her MySpace page:

I am dedicated to helping those in need, preserving our natural resources, and, most importantly, teaching anyone who will listen about the hidden world, the more interesting stuff that goes on beneath the surface of their humdrum little lives. My goal is to itegrate magic, mystery, wonder and awe back into the modern American's psyche--which is, at most, a slim chance. Still, it must be done!

Doctor DiscorD

Indianapolis, Indiana

Doctor DiscorD is a member of the Justice Society of Justice, which began as a joke, "a sort of street theater". The Doctor and his compatriots found there were real problems in the city that they could help alleviate, and the mission became serious. He works to protect the city of Indianapolis from crime, but wonders if the publicity that comes with being a superhero might inhibit a hero's effectiveness.

Mr. Silent

Indianapolis, Indiana

Mr. Silent is Doctor DiscorD's crimefighting partner and works to protect Indianapolis. He is an Asian superhero who wears a bowler hat and carries a cane. His name was born of his inherent shyness, but the mask enables him to take action when needed. When not fighting crime, Mr. Silent does what he can to help the homeless. See an interview with Mr. Silent at YouTube.

Razorhawk

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Razorhawk refers to himself as a masked adventurer rather than a superhero because he has no supernatural powers. He does safety patrols in Minneapolis and his hometown of St. Anthony Village, Minnesota. Razorhawk is the leader of the Great Lakes Heroes Guild. He spends a lot of his time working with various local charities.

Captain Jackson

Jackson, Michigan

Captain Jackson has been in the superhero business since 1999 as the leader of the Crimefighter Corps in Jackson, Michigan. He works with local authorities to instill civic pride and good citizenship. Keep up with Captain Jackson's activities on his blog.

Queen of Hearts

Jackson, Michigan

The Queen of Hearts is a superhero compatriot of Captain Jackson. She works to fight domestic violence by teaching young people how to recognize and prevent it. Her favorite side projects are the Pleasant Lake Playground project and the Michigan Theatre.

The Watchman

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Watchman does safety patrols and charity work in Milwaukee, and is a member of the Great Lakes Heroes Guild. His sidekicks are the Watchdog and Wonder Boy, who sometimes appear at charity events. See a video of the Watchman in this post.

Coming soon: more real world superheroes of the US and around 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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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