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7 People Who Prove Their Abilities

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Every time I write about people who belie the term "disabled" by doing the exact thing they are not supposed to be able to do, I am delighted to run across more stories that prove that point. There is no limit to what an ambitious hardworking person can do, even when they have more than the average number of drawbacks to overcome.

1. Hirotada Ototake

Hirotada Ototake was born in Japan with no arms and no legs. Still, he played basketball in middle school and was the manager of his high school football team. In college, he bumped up against access barriers to the disabled and became an advocate for accommodation, which Japan has only recently began to confront. Ototake wrote a book in 1998 about his experiences called No One's Perfect, which became a bestseller in Japan and is now available in English. The book led to a career as a sportswriter, and in 2007 he took another job as a teacher at a Tokyo elementary school. This past May, Ototake captured the world's attention when he threw out the first pitch at a professional baseball game, which he dedicated to the people of Tohoku who were recovering from the earthquake and tsunami a couple of months earlier.

2. Simona Atzori

Spettacolo del 6 Settembre 08

Simona Aztori is an Italian painter and a dancer. She was born in 1974 without arms, and uses her feet for both professions. She began to paint at age four, and to dance at age 6. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario in 2001, she has taken on many dance tours all over the world, including a performance at the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Paralympic Games in Turin, Italy. Aztori also gives motivational speeches and is active with the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World. You can watch her perform in this video. Image by Flickr user DELFOSUB.

3. Jay Forry

Jay Forry's website is called Blindside Reviews. He is a professional film critic, the only one in the US who is blind. Forry lost his eyesight to diabetes when he was 28 years old. A former steelworker, he went to school to retrain as a social worker. A friend suggested he write for the student newspaper, and Forry jokingly suggested he'd write movie reviews. He did just that, and his humor made the reviews so popular that he went on to discuss movies on radio. Now he has a syndicated radio show and newspaper column. His reviews rate movies from "A So good, blind people like it." to "F Blindness was a blessing."

4. Doug Forbis III

Doug Forbis was born in 1986 with a condition called sacral agenesis, which means part of his spinal cord did not develop. His non-functioning legs and part of his spine were amputated when he was one year old. Forbis uses a wheelchair, but can also walk on his hands. He's an athlete who competed in swimming and basketball in high school and college. Forbis attained a degree in teaching this year, and plans to teach children with special needs -including teaching physical education. You can see a video report on Forbis at YouTube.

5. Matt Stutzman

Matt Stutzman is known as the Armless Archer. He was born in 1982 with no arms, but was otherwise healthy and learned to use his feet for everything. Stutzman never considered himself disabled and was frustrated with officials and school authorities who treated him as such. It took two years of work for him to be allowed to get a driver's license! Stutzman is a member of the Para United States Archery Team and his goal is to compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He competes in at least one major competition a month, mostly competing against archers with arms, and is gathering sponsors for his Paralympic run.

6. Adam Starr

Adam Starr began gymnastics training when he was three years old. Starr was an all-around athlete as a star on his high school diving and track teams in addition to tumbling. Then in 2009, when he was a freshman in college, his right leg was amputated due to cancer. Starr underwent a second amputation to stop the aggressive cancer, and then chemotherapy, physical therapy, and was fitted with a prosthetic leg. He also kept up his studies as a premed student. Two years after the cancer treatment, Starr announced to the reddit community that he had returned to the gym to see if he still had his gymnastic moves. He was pleasantly surprised to find he can still do back flips.

7. Kearan Tongue-Gibbs

Eleven-year-old Kearan Tongue-Gibbs of Redditch, Worcestershire, England, was born without hands or forearms. He uses his upper arms to play cricket! Tongue-Gibbs has been noticed by the England and Wales Cricket Board. He is a spin bowler, which is somewhat analogous to a baseball pitcher throwing a spinning curve ball. Volunteers from a local agency installed a practice field in Tongue-Gibbs backyard, and trains with other disabled cricketeers in Birmingham. The local cricket clubs are keeping an eye on the youngster.

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
9 More 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
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]