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The Shared Lives of Unusually Close Twins

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Most of us, at one time or another, imagine what it would be like if there were another person just like us. Twins already know what this is like. They have the same family, the same childhood experiences, and in the case of identical twins, the same DNA, yet they are separate people who eventually build their individual lives. But some twins share more than others.

Shared Language: Grace and Virginia Kennedy

Grace and Virginia Kennedy were born in 1970. The twins suffered a series of seizures soon after birth, and their parents assumed they were left mentally handicapped. The two girls were not sent to school, but kept home with their grandmother (who spoke German and interacted with the children only minimally) while their parents worked. Grace and Virginia's mother spoke German and some English; their father spoke English. However, the girls spoke to each other in a language no one else could understand.

There are many cases of idioglossia, or private language, between twins or close siblings, but in most cases it dies out around age three or four as children socialize with people outside the family. The Kennedy twins, having been isolated from the outside world, continued their strange communication much later. In 1978, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin made a documentary about the Kennedy twins and their private language. He named it Poto and Cabengo, the names the girls used for each other. Only the first few minutes are available online.

Grace and Virginia were not organically disabled, but suffered from years of neglect. They were studied, analyzed, and sent to school (separately) for the first time, where they thrived. They learned English quickly and social skills slowly. When studied by linguists, their language turned out to be an extremely rushed mishmash of heavily-accented English and German. The family was hoping for a lucrative film deal at the height of their notoriety, but it was not to be. After the girls were sent to school and the novelty of their case wore off, the family retreated once again into isolation.

Shared Personality: Freda and Greta Chaplin

The case of Freda and Greta Chaplin of Yorkshire grabbed public interest in 1981 when the sisters were taken to court for harassing a truck driver they apparently had a crush on. The twins were inseparable: they dressed alike, lived together, moved in sync with each other, and not only finished each other's thoughts, but seemed to speak the same words together.

They also seemed to suffer from a shared mental illness, possibly erotamania, which manifested in their obsession with the truck driver, a neighbor who took them to court after fifteen years of trouble. Later there was speculation that they may be autistic. Freda's and Greta's odd behavior was the centerpiece of a 1994 documentary called The Twins, which is not available online except for this excerpt.

The sisters were inseparable until 2007, when Greta died of cancer at age 64. Frida stays away from the public, and is believed to be in a nursing home.

Shared Mind: Krista and Tatiana Hogan

Krista and Tatiana Hogan (NYT link) are craniopagus conjoined twins, which means they are joined at the head. The four-year-old girls have captivated the scientific community because of a link between their two brains that appears to connect the thalamus of one girl to the other. Neurosurgeon Douglas Cochrane calls this connection a "thalamic bridge," which may send sensory input from one brain to the other.

Image credit: Stephanie Sinclair/VII, for The New York Times.

The twins cannot face the same direction at once, but sometimes one sister will see, feel, or taste something and the other sister will react to the sensation. They are still too young for extensive tests, but will be monitored by scientists studying the brain for years to come.

Shared Body: Abigail and Brittany Hensel

Abigail and Brittany Hensel share more than most of us could dream of. They are dicephalic parapagus twins, joined at the torso in a manner that makes them appear to have one body and two heads. To be precise, there are two of their upper body organs, but their spinal cords join into one pelvis and one set of legs. They were born with three arms, but the rudimentary shared arm was removed. Soon after birth, their parents decided against a separation attempt, as any such operation would leave the girls severely disabled even if they both survived the surgery.

Each twin controls half of their shared body. Abby and Brittany learned to coordinate their movements precisely in order to walk, eat, and perform everyday activities. In 2006, they learned to drive by coordinating their movements and attention, although each had to take a separate test to get a license. The Discovery Health Channel produced a documentary on the twins, called Joined for Life. As of 2011, the 21-year-old Hensel twins were attending Bethel University in Minnesota and are staying out of the spotlight as they focus on their education.

Shared Celebration: Twin Days

Image by J. Kyle Keener/National Geographic.

Twins naturally occur in one out of every 80 pregnancies. Most twins share only as much as you would expect in siblings who are the same age -which is a lot. The things that twins share are celebrated every year in Twinsburg, Ohio during Twin Days. Twins from all over the world join together to socialize with other pairs who understand what it means to be a twin.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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