Original image

The Lost Boys Give Back

Original image

The Lost Boys of Sudan are a group of thousands of young men from Sudan who fled the violence of their villages and lived in refugee camps for years before they were relocated to the United States, Australia, and other nations. After the cease-fire in 2005, many of them are looking homeward, and using the education and skills they've learned to help those who remain in Sudan.

After government troops destroyed his village in 1987, John Bul Dau walked for five years to reach the Kukuma refugee camp in Kenya. Nine years later, he was selected to come to Syracuse, New York with a group of Lost Boys. There, he worked as a security guard, attended college, sponsored the immigration of his surviving family members, married, and had two children. Dau was featured in the 2006 documentary God Grew Tired of Us about his journey, and wrote a book about it, called God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir. He organized the the Sudanese Lost Boys of New York Foundation to help with the educational expenses of other Sudanese refugees. In 2007, Dau established the John Dau Foundation working to provide healthcare to southern Sudan in the form of clinics and training for health care workers.

Salva Dut fled his village of Tonj in southwestern Sudan in 1985, when he was eleven years old. In 1990 he led a group of younger refugees to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived for six years. Dut came to Rochester, New York in 1996. When he learned that his father was alive in 2002, Dut went back to Sudan. He found his father ill from disease and water-borne parasites. After resettling his father in a healthier town, Dut confronted the lack of clean water in Sudan and founded Water for Sudan in 2004. He now spends half his time overseeing the organization's efforts to drill safe wells in southern Sudan and the other half of his time working on a degree in international business in the US.

Valentino Achak Deng spent nine years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya both as a refugee and as a health care educator before traveling to the US in 2001. He settled in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2003 he met author Dave Eggers who collaborated with him to write the semi-fictionalized autobiography, What is the What. Deng decided that all proceeds from the book go to help rebuild his hometown of Marial Bai in Sudan. Thus was born the Valentino Achek Deng Foundation to builds schools, librarys, community centers, and teacher training institutes in Sudan.

Jok Kuol Wel, Ajang Bol, Duot Aguer, and Chau Thon are a group of Lost Boys who banded together to found HELPSudan International in 2005. The group's first project in 2006 was to establish a school in the community of Bor to serve 400 students. They are in the process of raising funds for a permanent building for the school. See an interview with founders Bol and Wel at YouTube.

Emmanuel Jal doesn't know his exact age, but he knows he became a soldier at around seven or eight years old. His family fled their village when it was destroyed. After his mother died, he was rounded up and taken to Ethiopia, where he was schooled for a while then conscripted into the Sudan People's Liberation Army. After months of fighting, Jal ran off with some other children. British aid worker Emma McCune took Jal under her protection and sent him to Nairobi, Kenya where he could attend school. Jal was around eleven years old when she smuggled him aboard a plane out of Sudan. McCune adopted Jal in 1993, but was killed in an auto accident not long after. Jal began singing while a student in Kenya and became nationally known for his music. International fame came after Jal performed at Live 8: Africa Calling in 2005. His life is the subject of the book War Child: A Child Soldier's Story, and a documentary film called War Child. Now living in England, Jal went on to establish the organization GUA Africa which works to open schools in Sudan and Kenya. You can sponsor a child's education through GUA Africa. Image by David Shankbone.

Abraham Deng Ater also traveled with the huge group of refugees to Kakuma refugee camp beginning in 1987. In 2001, he was brought to Tucson, Arizona. He achieved a B.S. in Health Sciences at the University of Arizona, became a US citizen in 2006, and went on to pursue a masters in Public Health. Ater returned to Sudan in 2007 to search for his family. His mother and two sisters survived the war, but his father and brother did not. The trip home inspired Ater and two friends to found the Lost Boys Schools for Sudan organization to build schools and provide books, computers, and supplies for students in Sudan. The organization also brings mosquito nets and other health supplies to and teaches health care basics in Sudanese communities. See an interview with Ater at YouTube.

Gabriel Bol Deng was ten years old in 1987 when his village was destroyed. He walked for four months to reach Ethiopia, where he studied English until the 1991 civil war forced him to travel with other refugees to Kenya. Deng arrived in Syracuse, New York with other refugees in 2001. He achieved a bachelor's degree in Mathematics Education and Philosophy in 2007 and was named Student Teacher of the Year. He then returned to Sudan with Garang Mayuol and Koor Garang, a trip that became the subject of the documentary Rebuilding Hope. Deng then founded Hope for Ariang to build schools, first for 700 children in the village of Ariang, then elsewhere in Sudan.

Samuel Garang Mayuol was five years old in 1987 when he fled along with his father to Ethiopia. His father died in the refugee camp there the next year. Mayuol made it to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 1992, where he became friends with Koor Garang and Gabriel Deng. He survived malaria and was brought to Elgin, Illinois in 2001. Mayuol discovered his mother to be alive in 2004, but couldn't travel to see her until the 2007 trip featured in the movie Rebuilding Hope. He was greeted as a hero in his village of Lang. He then began the Lang Water Project in collaboration with Deng's organization and worked with Salva Dut's organization to bring clean water to Lang and Ariang and to combat drought during the dry season and disease during the rainy season.

Christopher Koor Garang left his village in the Akon area of Sudan at the age of seven. After living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, he settled in Tucson, Arizona in 2001. Garang became a licensed practical nurse and is working on a nursing degree. He returned to Sudan with Samuel Garang Mayuol and Gabriel Bol Deng for the 2007 Rebuilding Hope trip, bringing with him mosquito nets and other supplies that he had spent years raising money for. Garang founded Ubuntu in Arizona to raises funds for healthcare work in Sudan. He also works with the organization Jumpstart Sudan. See an interview with Garang at YouTube.

James Lubo Mijak came the US in 2001 and settled in Charlotte, North Carolina. He received his degree in international studies from UNC Charlotte in 2008. He wants to build a school in his hometown of Nyarweng in southern Sudan through a project called Raising Sudan. Ngor Kur Mayol is another Lost Boy from Atlanta, Georgia who co-founded the project with Mijak in order to build a school in his native home of Aliap. Mayol also founded Sudan Rowan in collaboration with St. John's Lutheran Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. Sudan Rowan is an organization in North Carolina pledged to fund Mayol's dream of helping his village to rebuild.

Michael Kuany ran away from his village, Jalle, when government forces attacked. He was around six years old. Kuany walked, along with other refugees, a thousand miles to Ethiopia. He lived in a refugee camp there until civil war forced the refugees back in Sudan in 1991. Kuany walked again with other refugees to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where he lived for the next ten years. He jumped at the chance to go the the US in 2001, where he got his GED and then studied political science and international studies in college. Kuany founded Rebuild Sudan in 2005. The organization is in the process of building a school for around 400 children in Jalle.

This article was inspired by a post at Metafilter.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]