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The Heroes and Helpers of the Oklahoma Tornado

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Getty Images

Monday's terrifying tornado in Oklahoma left 24 people dead, hundreds injured, and $2 billion in damages. Amid all the awful news, there are amazing stories of how people stepped up to save lives and help victims through the devastation. And as the famous Mister Rogers quote tells us, in times of tragedy, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." Let's meet some of the helpers.    

Rhonda Crosswhite

Screenshot from NBC.

Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma was destroyed, and seven students were killed when the building collapsed under the force of the tornado. There would have been more fatalities if it hadn't been for the selfless actions of schoolteachers, who tried to save as many children as they could. Sixth grade teacher Rhonda Crosswhite rushed her students into an interior restroom. She found herself in a stall with six students, told them to get on the floor, and she then laid on top of them. All those students survived, with only one minor injury. Crosswhite herself ended up covered in cuts, especially on her back.    

Sherri Bittle and Cindy Lowe

Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma was ravaged by the tornado. Teachers Sherri Bittle and Cindy Lowe instructed students to huddle in a corner and cover their heads with their backpacks. Then the teachers shielded the students with their own bodies as the tornado ripped through.

Suzanne Haley

Special education teacher Suzanne Haley rounded up her students and protected them at Briarwood Elementary. She and another teacher shoved students under desks and surrounded them as best they could. The students, including Haley's two daughters, were safe, but a metal desk leg ended up sticking clear through Haley's calf muscle. She was impaled. Haley was taken to a hospital that is not a preferred provider on her medical insurance. She was worried that the expenses would not be covered. But after appearing on CNN, her insurance company said they would indeed cover her treatment.

Julie Simon

Photograph by Paul Hellstern.

Briarwood Elementary third grade teacher Julie Simon rushed her students into a closet as the tornado approached. The winds were so powerful that they sucked glasses off the students' faces, and eventually started lifting children upward. Simon held onto her students and shielded them with her arms until the storm had passed.

Many other teachers put themselves in harm's way to save the students under their charge in these and other schools in the tornado's path.

Movie Theater Staff

Photograph by amilliongyvers.

When the warnings came, the staff at the Warren Theater in Moore went into action, evacuating the matinee audience from the theaters into the inner hallways. When the tornado passed, they emerged from the building to find it one of the few left standing in the area. IMAX movie theater manager Alex Ansari went into rescue mode, helping people out of the damaged medical center nearby. The theater was then turned into a triage center where first responders brought victims for first aid and evaluation. See more pictures here. And another picture taken on Tuesday.

Photograph from Getty Images.

Brandon Morgan

Twenty-two-year-old Brandon Morgan is a storm chaser who lives in Moore, Oklahoma. On Monday he slept late, but wanted to track the storms brewing in the area. Instead, he reported a sighting of a tornado and warned people to take cover, because he recognized it could be deadly. Morgan did not realize just how deadly it would turn out to be. After the twister tore through Moore, Morgan switched from storm chaser mode to National Guard mode. He and his brother pulled two women out the ruins of a Dollar General store, then headed to battle a blaze at a house that was on fire. Then he teamed up with Fire Corps to provide supplies to shelters and rescue workers.

Volunteer Groups

Photograph from Getty Images.

In the first 24 hours after the tornado hit, over 100 people were rescued from wreckage and underground shelters. Local first responders, like the firefighters shown in the title picture at the top, worked around the clock. Search and rescue teams and volunteers came from all over to help find survivors.

Oklahoma National Guard Airmen from the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron descended on the devastated areas soon after the tornado ripped through to begin search and rescue operations.

The Chickasaw Nation Search and Rescue group, based in Ada, Oklahoma, responded to lend a hand. They had previously helped with such operations after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and other tornado disasters.  

Joplin, Missouri was the site of a devastating tornado in May of 2011. As others helped the city then, Joplin jumped in to help Moore, Oklahoma by sending a dozen public safety employees to assist in rescue and shelter operations in the aftermath of the tornado.

“We remember the amount of assistance that we received following the tornado two years ago, and we want to help others as they helped us,” Mark Rohr, Joplin’s city manager, said in announcing the aid Monday night.

Multi-County Fire Corps of Hinton, Oklahoma sprung into action, delivering food and supplies to rescue workers and shelters in Moore and Newcastle.

Tennessee Task Force One, based in Memphis, Tennessee, sent 80 people and several K-9 units to Oklahoma to search through the rubble. They had recently completed a training course dealing with collapsed buildings.

Photograph by Sue Ogrocki/AP.

Maeghan Hadley, founder of One Day Ranch animal rehab and rescue center in Shawnee, Oklahoma, brought a team of six volunteers to Moore to search for animals trapped in the rubble. News crews caught the moment when this tiny gray kitten was found in a pile of debris. The center has reunited six dogs with their owners (so far), transported a pig that landed up on a roof, and has a standing offer to pasture horses that lost their homes in the tornado. Then on Tuesday, Hadley was involved in a traffic accident while transporting animals, and says she's a bit banged up, but no animals were injured.

People Everywhere

Even those who cannot get to Oklahoma to help are lending their time and talent to help those affected by the tornados.

A subreddit Missing Pets In Moore was set up to post pictures of found pets in the tornado-stricken area, and reunite them with their owners. Redditors who aren't in the area are scanning the web to repost any information from other sites in order to have all found pets in one place with the goal of matching "lost" notices with "found" notices, no matter on what website they originated.

A Facebook page has been launched to help families find photographs and personal items that were lost and may have been found by others in Oklahoma. Found photographs are being uploaded that may be claimed by their owners. Buzzfeed has more pictures

Kevin Durant

Photograph from Getty Images.

Kevin Durant of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder donated a million dollars to the Red Cross for disaster relief in the affected areas. The 24-year-old forward made the donation through his foundation, the Kevin Durant Family Foundation. He also urged others to donate whatever they can to help out. And many people have.

Inspirational Moments

Photograph from The Weather Network.

Jaclyn Whittal of the Weather Network Tweeted this picture of an American Flag flying over the devastation Monday night. Marines assisting with search and rescue raised it as a symbol of hope and solidarity when they found it in Moore. Flags were flying in several locations amid the rubble in Oklahoma as soon as they were found.

Photograph by Heath Dodd.

Oklahoma City residents Heath and Catherine Dodd were sorting through the rubble of the tornado aftermath in Moore, where they have friends, and found a plaque that hits home for the citizens of Moore and all the affected areas.

If you want to help the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma, here is a list of ways you can donate.

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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]