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8 Inspiring Stories About Runners

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One of the many amazing stories to come out of the Boston Marathon tragedy is that of the blood-donating runners. In case you haven’t read about it, many of the runners finished a grueling 26.2 miles (or close to it), then kept on running to the hospital to give blood, even in their depleted states.

Because we could all use an extra dose of humanity this week, here are eight other feel-good stories about runners.

1. A helping hand

In December 2012, Kenyan Abel Mutai was the first to cross the finish line of a cross-country race in Burlada, Spain. At least, he thought he crossed the finish line. Ivan Fernandez Anaya, a Spanish competitor who was right behind Mutai, knew better. Mutai had pulled up a little short of the finish line, but instead of taking advantage of the situation and plowing right back him, Anaya used gestures to urge Mutai forward to complete his rightful first place finish.

“I didn’t deserve to win it,” Anaya said afterward. “I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake.”

2. First place finish

Exhausted from a previous race, a high school track star from Ohio was in last place in a 3,200-meter race last year when she saw the competitor in front of her start to fall just a few meters from the finish. Though runners can be disqualified for physically helping other runners, Meghan Vogel put her arm around Arden McMath and helped carry her to the end—even making sure that McMath crossed first. “It's strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like 'humanity,’” Vogel said. “When I hear words like that I think of Harriet Tubman and saving people's lives. I don't consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do.”

3. World's Best Dad

This story is not about a runner doing something nice for someone else, but rather someone doing something touching for a runner. Derek Redmond (above) was just over halfway through a 400m race at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona when his hamstring popped. As the medical staff showed up with a stretcher for them, Redmond waved them away, determined to finish the race. While he limped slowly toward the finish line in incredible pain, his father fought his way down through the stands, leapt over the railing that divided spectators from competitors, and outran security guards trying to chase him down. About 120 meters from the finish, Jim Redmond caught up to his son, put his arms around him and helped him most of the rest of the way. About two steps from the line, Jim let go so Derek could finish on his own. “I'm the proudest father alive," Jim said afterward. "I'm prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did."

4. Catch you when you fall

Last month, Michael Stefanon was coming down the final stretch of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Washington, D.C., when he spotted a slower runner ahead of him and thought he could probably pass him. As Stefanon went to pass, the man staggered backward. Stefanon caught him, saying, “We are going to do this together,” and mostly carried the exhausted runner 15 yards to the finish line. The runner, Ryan Gregg, said he was especially grateful for the help because his two young sons were watching him run a marathon for the first time and he didn’t want them to see their dad quitting.

Stefanon was proud of the example he set for his sons as well:

“That experience reminds me of something very similar that I preach to my boys at bedtime when we are saying our prayers,” he told Runner’s World. “We ask that we can be touched in a way that we may help others in need, and put others before ourselves. I feel as though I was the fortunate one in this instance, as my two sons (5 and 8) were able to see the entire event unfold before their eyes.”

5. A marathon of support

When the New York Marathon was canceled last fall due to Hurricane Sandy, many runners regrouped and organized themselves into volunteer squads. Wearing their orange marathon shirts, the runners brought backpacks full of supplies to Staten Island, helped with cleaning efforts and handed out water.

6. Never too late to start

Think you’re too old to start running? Or too out-of-shape? Look to Margaret Hagerty for inspiration. The 90-year-old marathon runner holds the Guinness Record for “oldest person to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents,” which she achieved at the age of 81. Hagerty took up running when she was 64 to try to help her quit smoking. Though she believes that everyone should experience the Great Wall of China Marathon, her personal favorite is the grueling “Arctic Marathon.”

7. I'll Carry You

Then-high school junior Josh Ripley was in the first mile of a two-mile cross-country meet when he heard a fellow runner scream. He found competitor Mark Paulauskas badly bleeding from the ankle and discovered that he had been “spiked,” or injured by someone else’s metal-spiked tracked shoes. Ripley carried the injured runner for half of a mile to get him back to his coach, then went on to finish his race. Paulauskas needed more than 20 stitches.

8. Taking a Stroller

Iram Leon was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in November 2010. Not wanting to give up running or time with his 6-year-old daughter, Leon decided to combine the two. So far, he’s run six marathons while pushing daughter Kiana in a stroller.

Leon and Kiana most recently completed the Gusher Marathon in Texas in three hours, seven minutes and 35 seconds—good enough for a first-place finish.

"This is supposed to eat away at my memory in the end," Leon said. “But I hope this memory is one of the last things to go and one she never loses."

A college fund for Kiana has been started here.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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