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Marz Jr.

10 Badass Moms Who Deserve Their Own Holidays

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Marz Jr.

By Judy Dutton

Most moms should get a medal. These women deserve more.

1. Minna Wilson: The Mom In Your Corner

On September 21, 1989, boxer Tony Wilson was defending his British light-heavyweight championship against Steve McCarthy, and it wasn’t going well. Unable to watch, Wilson’s mother, Minna, jumped into the ring and bashed McCarthy with her high-heel shoe. The resulting head wound was so bad that McCarthy quit the fight. When a rematch was scheduled, Minna promised not to attend. “I will never go back to one of [Tony’s] fights,” she said. There was no need; she’d already put the fear of Mom into McCarthy. On the day of the rematch he withdrew, citing the flu.

2. Olympias of Macedon: The Mom Behind the Throne

Alexander III of Macedon would never have become “Alexander the Great” without his mom, Olympias. The fourth wife of Philip II—and a member of the snake-worshiping cult of Dionysus—Olympias was not pleased when wife No. 5 arrived in 337 BCE. Historians believe she hired hit men to assassinate her hubby, burn his newest wife, and poison two of her husband’s offspring. The carnage cleared Alexander’s path to the throne, although scheduling the assassinations during her own daughter’s wedding probably put a damper on future family get-togethers.

3. Angela Cavallo: Supermom!

On April 9, 1982, Georgia teen Tony Cavallo was working on his Chevy Impala in his driveway when the jack collapsed, pinning him under the car. That’s when Tony’s mom, Angela, did the superhuman: The 50-something woman lifted the 3,500-pound vehicle four inches and held it for about five minutes as two neighbors dragged her son to safety. Scientists have a hard time re-creating such adrenaline-fueled feats in the lab, but Angela’s “hysterical strength” does seem to prove that a mother’s love knows no (weight) limits.

4. Mary Thomas: The Den Mother

In 1966, Mary Thomas—a single mother of nine living in Chicago’s West Side—found 25 street toughs on her stoop. The men, members of the notorious Vice Lords gang, had come to recruit her seven sons. Thomas quietly excused herself, then reappeared with a shotgun and a message: “There[’s] only one gang around here, and that’s the Thomas gang.” Thomas made sure that each of her kids graduated from high school, and you probably know her youngest: basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.

5. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Mom In America

Mary Harris Jones was one of the liveliest, sassiest, and most effective union organizers in history. She peppered speeches with curses and used stunts to make points. When a group of miners’ wives were jailed, Jones advised them to sleep all day and sing all night—which irritated neighbors so much that they were released five days later. In 1912, she protested lax child labor laws by marching hundreds of kids with signs that read, “We want to go to school and not to the mines!” to the president’s house. By her 60s, she’d been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America.” But to the workers she protected, she was simply “Mother Jones.”

6. Lucinda Shaw: Most Patient Mom Ever

Few tested the bounds of parental patience quite like writer George Bernard Shaw, who moved in with his mom after college. Lucinda’s free rent kept Shaw afloat through a series of failed novels, while her love helped her tolerate her son’s prickly personality, overblown ego, and vegetarian dietary demands.
It wasn’t until Shaw turned 39 that he started earning enough to support himself as a theater critic. Thirty years later, Lucinda’s unwavering belief in her freeloading son’s abilities finally paid off when he won the Nobel Prize.

7. Brenda Barnes: The Mom Who Came Back

Former Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes was one of Forbes’s World’s Most Powerful Women. But her bigger accomplishment may be the huge strides she’s made for stay-at-home moms returning to the workforce. In a hotly debated move, Barnes left her position as president of PepsiCo North America to spend more time with her family. Six years later, she joined Sara Lee, where she started a corporate “returnship” program for other mothers like her. The program was so successful that the company now emphasizes equal consideration of returning professionals for all open positions—a big step forward for both career–life balance and corporate America!

8. Lydia AngyIou: The Real Mama Bear

In 2006, Lydia Angyiou was outside with her two sons in northern Quebec when she saw a polar bear poised to attack her 7-year-old. Lydia struck first, kicking and punching the 700-pound beast before it could get near her son. A strange wrestling match ensued until a neighbor finally shot the bear. Lydia was rushed to the hospital, but miraculously survived with just a few scratches and a black eye. Locals were stunned; nobody tackles a bear and lives to tell the tale. Just ask Goldilocks.

9. Sai Mai: The Original Tiger Mom

Normally, pigs make tasty hors d’oeuvres for tigers. But Sai Mai, a Bengal tigress at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chon Buri, Thailand, was raised to be more open-minded. As a cub, Sai Mai was suckled by a sow until she was 4 months old. Two years later, she returned the favor by suckling six piglets. Zookeepers, sensing a great PR opportunity, put Sai Mai and her brood on display, dressing the piglets in tiny tiger outfits. For years, the tigress cared for “cubs” of many species, ignoring her predatory impulses in favor of her motherly ones.

10. Ann Jarvis: The Mom Who Inspired Mother’s Day

During the Civil War, Ann Jarvis cared for the wounded on both sides of the fight. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother’s Friendship Day. All that compassion inspired her daughter, Anna, to campaign for a national Mother’s Day. It took Anna years, but in 1914, Woodrow Wilson made it a national observance. By the 1920s, though, Anna regretted how the holiday was observed. She especially despised greeting cards, griping: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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