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9 Middle Children Who Came Out On Top

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1. Abraham Lincoln

"Honest Abe" started his life in a humble Kentucky cabin and died the President of the United States. Unfortunately, his older sister and younger brother never lived to see his accomplishments. The baby of the family, Thomas Lincoln, Jr., died in infancy. Six years later, Lincoln's mother died of milk sickness. The future president's older sister Sarah became his primary caregiver until their father remarried. She later married and died in childbirth at the age of 21.

2. Warren Buffett

When the so-called "Oracle of Omaha" filed his first tax return at the age of 14, he wrote off the bike and watch he used for his paper route. So Warren Buffett's older and younger sisters weren't surprised that he eventually became one of the wealthiest people in the world. In 2006, he pledged to give 99 percent of his fortune away before he died or upon his death. His older sister Doris, a multi-millionaire in her own right, was inspired to follow suit. The two have also teamed up to give away $100,000 through an online philanthropy course called Giving With Purpose. Students evaluate non-profits and choose how and where the moneyed siblings pay it forward.

3. Jennifer Lopez

Don't be fooled by the rocks that she's got: Jennifer Lopez was known as "the athletic one" while growing up the middle of three sisters in the Bronx. (Her sisters were "the pretty one" and "the singer.") When Lopez decided to drop out of college to pursue acting, her mother kicked her out of the house. Now she's considered a triple threat. She started her career dancing on In Living Color. In 1997, she played her first leading film role in Selena. By 1999, she was a pop star known as J. Lo. Today she's one of the wealthiest Latina entertainers in the world.

4. Herbert Hoover

The 31st President of the United States knew all about the boom and the bust. He was born into a loving Quaker family, but lost both of his parents by the age of nine. Hoover, his older brother, and younger sister were split up and raised by different relatives. Despite the upheaval, the orphaned boy made the most of every opportunity. He attended night school and was accepted into the first class of students at Stanford University, despite failing almost every entrance exam. Hoover made millions as a mining engineer and consultant before working in government. His idea of "meatless Mondays" and "wheatless Wednesdays" was a hit when he took over the Food and Drug Administration during World War I. He later spearheaded post-war relief efforts. But Hoover's days at the White House were much more challenging. He took office in 1929 and bore much of the blame for the Great Depression. Despite losing the 1932 election, he stayed in politics—and even considered a second run for president. By the time he died in 1964, he'd repaired his reputation with the Hoover Commission and charitable work.

5. Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow's parents divorced when he was 12, splitting him up from his older brother and younger sister. But there was an upside: Apatow's newly-single mother worked at a comedy club, and he got to see comedians in action. Apatow got a gig washing dishes at the club and started performing onstage at 17. Now he makes his own movies and regularly casts his daughters Maude and Iris as squabbling sisters.

6. David Letterman

Middle children aren't all background players. David Letterman grew up with an older and a younger sister, but managed to keep his mom's attention with unintentional injuries and other shenanigans. No one was surprised when he grew up to be a wacky weatherman and eventually a late night TV host. "I had one of the schoolteachers tell me after Dave got famous that the kids get by with a lot more now, because they can see it's not out of meanness, just mischievousness," Letterman's mother told the New York Times. "And I'm sure it's probably very good for the kids."

7. Anne Hathaway

Actress Anne Hathaway has an Oscar, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and her very own non-fan group called Hathahaters. Critics from Twitter to The New Yorker have called Hathaway affected, annoying, and too perfect to be likable. The good news: Growing up the only girl between two brothers was probably like a dress rehearsal. 

8. Bill Gates

Before co-founding Microsoft and becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world, Bill Gates was a smart aleck middle kid at odds with his parents. One infamous argument at the dinner table ended with Bill Gates, Sr. throwing a glass of water in his son's face. The boy genius and his sisters all took lessons and did well in school, but Gates achieved outside the box. When he dropped out of Harvard to start a company, his parents were worried but supportive. And the rest is history.

9. Britney Spears

Before she sang about being "not a girl, not yet a woman," Britney Spears was just a loud, energetic middle child. After years of dance, voice, and gymnastics lessons, Spears was cast in The Mickey Mouse Club in 1992. Six years later, she released ....Baby One More Time, the highest selling album by a teen artist. (Belieb that!) She's been a huge celebrity ever since, for better and for worse. Spears' siblings haven't achieved the same fame. Her look-alike younger sister Jamie Lynn starred in Zoey 101 on Nickelodeon, which was cancelled when she got pregnant at 16. Spears' older brother Bryan was named the co-trustee of her estate after her struggles with mental illness.

All images courtesy of Getty 

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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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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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