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Look for the Helpers: 10 Heroes of the Boston Marathon Tragedy

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"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" —Mister Rogers

In the midst of the carnage following the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, people came together to do what they could, even when it put them in danger. Some were doing their jobs, some had specific skills to volunteer, and others just offered what they could to help out. Here are some examples of the good to take the edge off the horrifyingly bad.

1. First Responders

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Boston EMTs were already stationed at the marathon to treat the expected injuries and exhaustion-related maladies that come with any marathon run. Boston police were there for crowd control. Dozen of doctors and nurses volunteered to work medical tents at the marathon. None of them expected to shift into emergency mode, but when the explosions happened, they rose to occasion.  

2. Marathon Runners

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When the bombs exploded, only about half the marathon runners had crossed the finish line. Many of those who were near the explosion ran to help the victims, despite their exhaustion after running 26 miles. As word of the disaster spread along the marathon route, some runners crossed the finish line and then continued running to Mass General Hospital to donate blood. Because of their efforts, and that of other immediate donors, the Red Cross has issued a statement that it has plenty of blood for the patients in Boston right now, and offers a website to help people find friends and family members affected by the tragedy.

3. Boston Residents

People living in Boston, Brookline, and other nearby areas quickly opened their doors with offers to let stranded marathoners and spectators stay at their homes. Specific offers were posted on Twitter and Google Docs to help house family members of the injured and others who weren't able to return home or to their hotels.

4. UMass Nursing Students

Photo by Flickr user Mark Zastrow

Dr. Adrienna Wald brought 30 of her nursing students from UMass Boston to the marathon as volunteers, expecting to treat exhausted runners. In addition to treating marathoners, the students immediately pitched in to help those with serious wounds.

"They did what they were trained to do," said Wald. "Instead of running away, they ran to help."

She said her students assisted at least one person whose leg had been amputated.

"It was a gory, gruesome scene that my students shouldn't have seen at this point in their careers," said Wald. "Who could ever be prepared for this?"

5. Allan Panter

Screenshot from The Today Show

Dr. Allan Panter traveled from his home in Georgia to Boston to watch his wife Theresa run the marathon. He was waiting at the finish line when the blast occurred. He ran to a seriously injured woman and went to work keeping her airway open until she could be taken to a medical tent. He then worked on many people with injuries, mostly leg injuries, to control bleeding. When Theresa crossed the finish line, she was relieved to find her husband helping instead of finding him a victim.

6. Joe Andruzzi

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Former New England Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi was at the scene of the explosions, as his charitable foundation sponsored runners. In the aftermath of the explosions, he was seen carrying an injured woman away from the site. Andruzzi came by that can-do attitude naturally: Three of his brothers were New York City firemen who responded to the 9/11 attacks.   

7. Carlos Arredondo

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"The man in the cowboy hat" stood out in photographs and videos of the explosions' aftermath, as he pulled debris off people and helped a young man who appeared to have lost both legs. That man in the hat was Carlos Arredondo, a 52-year-old peace activist who was at the marathon to cheer on a runner who was dedicating his race to Arredondo's son, a Marine who died in Iraq in 2004.

8. Anonymous Volunteers

While the police were very busy, these anonymous volunteers stepped up to help direct traffic around the affected area. They are representative of the many other anonymous people who helped out in whatever way they could.   

9. Google

Upon hearing the news of the Boston incident, Google immediately set up a Person Finder application in order to help friends and relatives get updates on not only Boston residents, but marathon runners from all over. You can also contribute information on people if you have it.   

10. Mister Rogers

In the aftermath of the explosions, many people around the United States thought back to their childhoods, and the advice they received from Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."

The man who had so much influence on a generation of children reached beyond the grave to help us cope and to inspire an attitude so many have in the days after a tragedy like the Boston bombing.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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