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Celeste and Syney Corcoran/Facebook

Checking in on the Victims of the Boston Bombing

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Celeste and Syney Corcoran/Facebook

It's been almost three months since the Boston Marathon was marred by two bombs, which killed three people and injured scores more. We profiled nine victims who suffered horrendous injuries. How are those people doing now? Three months on, they are trying to make their lives as normal as possible.

1. Celeste Corcoran

Celeste Corcoran of Lowell, Massachusetts, was cheering on her sister in the marathon when a bomb injured her so badly that both of her legs were amputated. Corcoran displayed exceptional "grit and perseverance" during her recovery, as she was in the same hospital room with her badly injured teenage daughter Sydney. Celeste has new prosthetic legs now. She took her first steps on June 3rd, one day before her daughter did. Celeste is home now, happy to be learning to do housework on her new legs, which make her a few inches taller than she was before.  

2. Sydney Corcoran

Eighteen-year-old Sydney Corcoran, Celeste's daughter, was elected prom queen of her high school May 28th. She attended the prom on decorated crutches. Sydney, who was seriously injured in the bombing, took her first steps without crutches on June 4th. She then graduated from high school on June 7th. That's her at the top of this page.

3. Ryan McMahon

Ryan McMahon broke her back and both arms in a fall during the bombing. Her doctors say that, even with therapy, her recovery will take six to twelve months. McMahon is getting around with a back brace and a brace on one of her wrists. She says she feels lucky to have not been injured as badly as some of the others.

4. Kaitlynn Cates

Kaitlynn Cates was seriously injured in her leg by the bombing, and came close to being an amputee. As it is, she kept the leg, but lost a chunk of muscle. She was able to walk when she graduated from Boston College May 20th, along with two other BC students injured in the bombing.

5. Adrianne Haslet-Davis

Adrianne Haslet-Davis is a dance teacher with the Arthur Murray Company, and lost her lower left leg in the bombing incident. The company has been sponsoring fundraising events across the country to help the couple. On April 30, this clip of Haslet-Davis was featured on the TV show Dancing with the Stars. She still has her sights set on dancing again, and has an open invitation to dance on the competition show when she feels up to it. Haslet-Davis and her husband, Air Force Capt. Adam Davis, are at home in Boston, and Haslet's parents came from Seattle to help them through their recoveries. Haslet-Davis looks forward to getting a prosthetic leg soon.    

6. Jeff Bauman

Jeff Bauman is the man so many people saw being wheeled away from the bomb site with his legs blown off and the bone showing, although most news outlets cropped the picture at his knees. Since he was discharged from the hospital, he has made a few public appearances with Carlos Arredondo, who kept him from bleeding to death the day of the bombing. Recently, Bauman took his first steps with his new prosthetic legs. The $100,000 legs were provided by the Wiggle Your Toes Foundation, which helps amputees. Bauman is focused on learning to walk, and doesn't yet know if he'll return to his job at Costco. He is considering maybe doing something to help others instead. Read more about Bauman's recovery in the New York Times.

7. Patrick Downes and 8. Jessica Kensky Downes

Patrick and Jessica Downes are the newlyweds who were taken to separate hospitals and had one leg amputated each. The young couple are now together at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and prefer to stay out of the spotlight as they recover. However, they sent a message of thanks to their supporters who have been raising funds for their care, and told how the two health professionals are using the experience to become more in tune with suffering patients.

9. Marc Fucarile

Marc Fucarile is still in the hospital. He was the last of the bombing victims to be released from Massachusetts General Hospital, but went from there to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. According to his sister, Fucarile is dealing with recurring infection in his amputated leg, plus bone spurs that are delaying surgery. In addition to losing his right leg, Fucarile suffered shrapnel wounds all over his body, and his left leg was so damaged that it, too, may be lost, but it will be months before doctors know for sure.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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.