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9 More People Who Refused to be Limited

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Server migration or not, this one is a brand new article!

Some people love a challenge. Some people are handed challenges they never asked for. Whether from pride, passion, inspiration, or a combination of all those things, some people are willing to do what it takes to accomplish what they aren't "supposed" to be able to do. I remember a phrase from my childhood, used as a comeback when someone is told they can't or won't do something- "You hide and watch me." Here are nine folks who took those challenges and ran with them.

1. Anthony Robles

Anthony Robles was born without a right leg, but never let that stop him from, well, pretty much anything. He runs a mile in eight minutes using a crutch. He played football on the junior high school team. Robles excelled most spectacularly in wrestling. The Arizona State athlete finished fourth nationally in his weight class as a sophomore. Then this year, Robles finished a perfect season in the 125-pound class by taking the NCAA national championship trophy, by defeating last year's champion.

2. Jessica Cox

Jessica Cox was born without arms, and does everything with her feet. Everything includes Tae Kwan-Do (she wears a black belt). And typing. And driving. And flying an airplane. Yes, Cox is the first armless woman to earn a pilot's license. To achieve that, she not only had to overcome her lack of arms, but her fear of flying as well!

3. Emory Martin

Emory Martin was born in Tennessee in 1916 with only six inches of left arm and no left hand. He wanted to play banjo like his father, and learned to use his stump, toes, and teeth to do it. By age 16 Martin won a talent contest and went professional, performing at the Grand Ole Opry. Martin toured with various acts in the 1930s and '40s, then settled down with his wife in Renfro Valley, where he performed at the weekly Barn Dance for many more years.

4. Ami Sano

Ami Sano was born without arms or legs, but is determined to lead a normal life. Now an office worker and motivational speaker, she was part of a cheerleading club at Toyokawa High School in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Sano also wrote her memoirs, Teashi-no-nai Cheerleader, meaning cheerleader without limbs, when she was 18 -so there could be a sequel in the works.

5. Bart Hickey

Bart Hickey is a respected mechanic in Alsip, Illinois. His business is named Bart's Automotive & Towing, or B.A.T. for short. According to his cousin,

Bart's brother Brian helped Bart name his automotive business - yes, Bart is a blind garage mechanic. " Bart's Automotive and Towing -Yeah, you know! Blind as a Bat." Bat is often used by the Irish in place of Bart or Bartholomew. Bat or Bateen.

Hickey has been blind since birth, but was always interested in tools and machines. After his father died when he was 11, Bart started fixing his mother's car. He read Popular Mechanics in Braille and hasn't stopped learning about cars since. See Hickey's video interview by Jim Quattrocki at vimeo.

6. Bert Amend

Bert Amend suffered the fate of too many lumber mill workers when his arm was cut off by a saw over 100 years ago. He thought his career, his love life, and his music were all gone forever. But Amend became a bookkeeper, married his girlfriend, and raised five children. And he didn't give up his music, either. Amend was already accomplished on several instruments, and he set about inventing attachments and devices that would enable him to play them again. Through his efforts to share these inventions with other amputee musicians, he gathered a group that became Bert Amend and the One-Armed Musicians. They traveled the vaudeville circuit in the 1910s and '20s with varying lineups, once featuring as many as seven musicians playing as many as 15 instruments. Amend is on the right in this photograph.

7. Pete Eckert

Pete Eckert was a carpenter, designer, and sculptor when we was was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, which eventually took his sight completely. Eckert prepared for the blindness he knew was coming by getting an MBA and learning martial arts. Only after he became completely blind was he inspired to become ...a photographer!

I slip photos under the door from the world of the blind to be viewed in the light of the sighted. I view my work during the event of taking the shot in my minds eye. I “see“ each shot very clearly, only I use sound, touch, and memory. I am more of a conceptual artist than a photographer. My influences come from my past memory of art and what I now find in the world at large.

With aid of adaptive computer technology and a seeing-eye dog, Eckert shoots, develops, and writes the stories of his award-winning photographs. Watch a video about Eckert at vimeo.

8. Zheng Guigui

Last year, Zheng Guigui performed on the TV show China's Got Talent. The 19-year-old stole the hearts of the audience by playing her piece with only five fingers, as she was born without any fingers on her right hand. Zheng was inspired to begin piano lessons in 2008 and put in long hours of practice to make up for lost time. She uses the knuckles on the end of her right hand as well as the fingers of her left. Playing the piano has given Zheng confidence and a sense of accomplishment after years of feeling inferior due to her missing fingers. Her goal is to respect for her music beyond pity for her disability.

9. Nick Vujicic

Nick Vujicic was born in 1982 with neither arms nor legs, due to a condition called Tetra-amelia. Vujicic has feet, but only two toes, both on one foot. But he graduated from college and became a motivational speaker, evangelist, and advocate for those with disabilities. You can see one of Vujicic's presentations on video. He's also written books. And now Vujicic is a movie star. The Butterfly Circus is currently a 22-minute award-winning short film (available to watch) about a traveling circus and the people who perform in it, and will be released as a full-length feature film -sometime.

For more stories, see these previous articles:

9 People Who Did It Anyway

9 People Who Knew They Could Do It

9 People Who Refused to be Limited

8 Amazingly Abled Athletes and Artists

Swimming Without Legs: 3 Inspiring Athletes

Dancing on Crutches

Roll Over Beethoven: 6 Modern Deaf Musicians

10 People Who Did It Anyway

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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