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8 Famous Christmas Babies

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Historians now largely agree that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, but that doesn’t mean no one of historical significance was born that day. Here are the stories of eight famous people born on Christmas Day.

1. Isaac Newton: Yes, Mr. Gravity himself was born on Christmas Day in 1642. This was under the Julian calendar, so the anniversary of his birthday is now considered to be on January 4. Interestingly, Newton was one of the first people to suggest that Christmas Day was not actually the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, but a date selected to correspond with the Roman celebration of the winter solstice.

2. Clara Barton: Before founding the American Red Cross, this teacher-turned-nurse was born in a Massachusetts farmhouse in the evening of December 25, 1821. The youngest of five children, she was raised by everyone in her family, once noting, “I had no playmates, but in effect six fathers and mothers. They were a family of schoolteachers” In time that education paid off, allowing Clara to start the first free public school in Bordentown, New Jersey, before moving on to her life-changing role as a Civil War nurse.

3. Muhammad Ali Jinnah: While 95% of Pakistan’s residents may be Muslim, it doesn’t change the fact that the Islamic founder of the country was born on Christmas Day 1876.

4. Robert Ripley: In 1918, just six days before his twenty-eighth birthday, the hero of odd-ball fact-lovers around the world published his first cartoon in The New York Globe. The cartoon, called "Champs and Chumps," featured a selection of random sports facts and launched his career in the weird and the creation of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

5. Humphrey Bogart: While it is widely accepted that the man who played Sam Spade was born on Christmas Day in 1899, some people have accused Warner Brothers of fabricating this fact to romanticize Bogart’s biography. These people claim he was actually born on January 23, 1899. No birth certificate has ever been found, but most of the evidence does point to him being a Christmas baby.

6. Jimmy Buffett: Plenty of music artists record holiday albums, but most of them aren’t singing about their birthdays at the same time. But in 1999, Parrotheads everywhere got a taste of the Christmas spirit when Buffett released his Christmas Island album just in time for his 53rd birthday.

7. Annie Lennox: Just in time for her 34th birthday, Lennox took her first step into the Christmas album arena when she covered Al Green’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” for the 1988 Scrooged soundtrack. This year, she also released her first full Christmas album, A Christmas Cornucopia.

8. Shane MacGowan: The Pogues released “Fairytale of New York,” a song depicting a drunk man’s tales of holidays past as he spends Christmas Eve in a police drunk tank, just in time for their lead singer’s 30th birthday in 1987.
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What other famous people were born on Christmas? Are any of you Christmas babies?

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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]