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How to Lift a Car in a Pinch

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Normally, if you need to lift a car, your best bet is a jack. But if you find yourself in an emergency where you need to move a set of wheels off of a trapped victim, plain old elbow grease and adrenaline can be more effective than you would expect.

1. Get Hysterical

Hoisting up an automobile is no small task, but there’s anecdotal evidence that an emergency situation can kick start your muscles. It’s still scientifically mysterious, but “hysterical strength” apparently occurs when a disaster triggers a surge of adrenaline that allows otherwise average people to engage in awesome feats of strength. Mothers have lifted cars off their children and little old ladies have flipped lawnmowers off friends. This maneuver is only recommended for emergency situations, but if you really need the strength, you may find you have it.

2. Brace Yourself

Even if you’re not muscle-bound, don’t despair. Getting a car off the ground doesn’t require as much raw strength as you might expect. Remember, you don’t need to lift the whole thing. You just need to get a wheel or two in the air to allow anyone trapped underneath it to get out. Finding a good place to grab the car is a must. Open one of the front doors and brace your shoulders against the upper part of the frame. If that doesn’t work, find a good handhold on the bumper or anywhere else sturdy on the car’s body.

3. Put Your Best Feet Forward

Remember all those squats you’ve done at the gym? You’re going to be doing basically the same thing, but with a much more impressive burden than a barbell. Take a broad stance with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart and slightly out in front of you to maximize your leverage.

4. Get a Leg Up

You’re going to be a hero once you lift this car, but there’s no sense in being a hero with a mangled spine. As always, lift with your legs and pretend you’re doing the toughest squat of all time.

5. Hold That Pose

Once you get the car in the air, hold it long enough for anyone trapped underneath to wriggle out. After they’re clear, gently lower your burden back down. Take a celebratory flex – this is one of the few times nobody will hold it against you.
* * *
If you’ve lifted a car, you’ve probably worked up a massive sweat. Why not cool off with a frosty Dos Equis?

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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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