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10 Impressive Accomplishments Made By Centenarians

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Jeff J Mitchell, Staff // Getty Images

People who live to celebrate their 100th birthdays belong to an elite club. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than one tenth of one percent of the population makes it to triple digits. In the U.S., the achievement has traditionally been recognized by a letter from the president. In the UK, citizens receive cards from the queen upon turning 100, 105, and every age after that.

These centenarians didn’t use the milestone as an excuse to slow down. Here’s how some of the world’s most seasoned citizens kept busy in their later years.

1. COMPLETING A MARATHON

Fauja Singh isn’t the fastest runner on the marathon route, but in the age department he laps his peers. In 2011, the Indian-born Brit became the oldest person to finish a marathon, at age 100. (He claims he was born before India started issuing birth certificates, so without official proof the accomplishment isn’t recognized by Guinness World Records.) The race marked his eighth completed marathon since he ran his first at age 89. He’s since retired from the marathon circuit, but 106-year-old still finds time to compete in shorter runs.

2. DIRECTING A FEATURE FILM

Two years after the first full-length movie premiered, Manoel de Oliveira was born. He would eventually grow up to become the oldest active filmmaker in the business. De Oliveira lived the first half of his life under a fascist government in Portugal that made launching a career as a director nearly impossible. When the regime crumbled in 1974, de Oliveira at last had the freedom to build his body of work. Twenty-seven of his feature films were made after age 55, culminating with The Strange Case of Angelica in 2010. The first draft of the screenplay was written in 1952—58 years before De Oliveira was finally was able to film it as a 102-year-old. Even after he retired from feature filmmaking, the director continued making shorts until his death at 106.

3. MODELING FOR VOGUE

Bo Gilbert shattered age barriers when she modeled for British Vogue’s centennial issue at age 100. The Birmingham, UK resident was discovered by a casting agent in The Evesham Journal, a local newspaper that featured Gilbert for her 100th birthday. The photoshoot marked her first time modeling professionally (she spent the bulk of her working years at a cardboard box factory), but fashion has always been an important part of her life. Gilbert, who never ventures out of her living facility without heels and makeup, told Vogue, “I dress for myself—I never dress up for boys.”

4. EARNING A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA

At 111, Lela Burden was old enough to be the great-grandmother of most students in Booker T. Washington High School’s graduating class. But in 2014, she joined them in collecting a high school diploma from the Norfolk, Virginia school. The achievement had been delayed 96 years following a flu epidemic that shut down her high school in 1918. By the time the school reopened, Burden was working two jobs and was unable to return. After a full life spent raising a family and reading the newspaper every day, she received the honor she was deprived of as a teenager. Leading up to her death in 2015, Burden was the 35th oldest person alive.

5. PUBLISHING A BOOK

When UK native Bertha Wood committed to writing her memoirs at age 90, she had a lot of material to pull from. She eventually zeroed in on her days running a vacation resort with her husband as the subject of her book, titled Fresh Air and Fun: The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp. The account was published on June 20, 2005—the same day as Wood’s 100th birthday. She died in 2007 as the world’s oldest first-time author.

6. SKYDIVING

William Verdun Hayes never intended to trudge into old age quietly. When he passed his 100th birthday, the British World War II veteran celebrated by jumping out of a plane. He took to the skies again a year later to claim the record for oldest tandem skydiver. Hayes completed the 15,000-foot jump when he was 101 years and 38 days old—besting the previous record holder by over a month.

7. CONQUERING MT. FUJI

Climbing Mt. Fuji was an annual tradition Teiichi Igarashi started in his old age, and he saw no reason to give it up after turning 100. In 1987, the retired lumberjack became the first centenarian to step foot on the mountain’s 12,385-foot peak. He was accompanied by seven of his 10 children, three of his 36 grandchildren, and a photo of his late wife he carried with him on each trek. According to AP, he wore heavy socks with no shoes and stopped to rest about every three minutes. Instead of drinking water, he ate raw eggs to replenish himself.

8. ACTING WITH MOVIE STARS

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Norman Lloyd in a suit in 2015.
Angela Weiss, Stringer // Getty Images

What do Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, and Amy Schumer have in common? They’ve all made movies with Norman Lloyd, the oldest working actor in Hollywood. Lloyd made his television debut in 1939, and he’s been an active member of the entertainment industry ever since. His resume includes acting credits on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, St. Elsewhere, and Dead Poets Society (1989). His most recent film, the 2015 comedy Trainwreck, premiered when he was 100 years old. At 102 he’s still landing acting gigs: For his next role Lloyd will play Captain Edwin Swan in the 2018 TV series Fly.

9. GETTING ARRESTED

Getting arrested is something most people try to avoid; for 102-year-old Edie Simms, it was a high priority on her bucket list. She got her wish in October 2016 when officers from the St. Louis Police department handcuffed her and guided her into the back of their police car. Instead of delivering her to jail, the officers escorted her to the local Five Star Senior Center, a residential community that Simms donates to regularly. With the police men and women at her side, she was finally able to distribute her hand-knit scarves, socks, and glasses cases to the residents in person.

10. YARN-BOMBING A TOWN

At 104, Grace Brett channeled her knitting hobby into an act of minor vandalism. With help from the rest of the “Souter Stormers,” a group of mischievous knitters from Scotland, she draped the public spaces around her town in colorful knitwear. Residents walked outside the day of the prank to find their benches, lampposts, and fences had been sweater-bombed. Some of Brett’s creations even featured tiny dolls and houses made from yarn. When the deed was done, she told The Daily Record that she “thought the town looked lovely.”

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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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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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