Original image

6 Surprising Ways to Make Better Decisions

Original image

When it comes time to make a big decision in your life, you want all the help you can get. Fortunately, there are some completely random things you can do to increase your chances of making the right decision. 

1. Get Angry

While you might think of angry people as irrational jerks, numerous studies have shown that getting worked up before listening to both sides of an argument makes you more likely to agree with the stronger/correct side. Even for people who are not naturally analytical, getting pissed off improves their ability to think logically and leads to better decision making.

2. Hold Your Pee

Having a bladder full to bursting can be a great thing when you need to make a decision, especially one where you need to control your baser instincts. So the next time, for example, you are trying to decide what to make for dinner, wait until you really need to pee and you will probably be more likely to choose the healthy option.

3. Procrastinate

If you have ever found yourself cleaning absolutely anything to avoid doing work, you are making a very good decision. “Active procrastination,” or doing something productive to avoid working on something else, is a good thing according to science (passive procrastination, where you sit on the couch eating chips, is still a bad thing.) And by putting decisions off until the last second you give yourself more time to think about them, which is a positive. Research shows this is true for virtually any area of thought, from sports to military strategy to dating.

4. Go With Your Gut

Trusting your initial or gut feelings has an almost magical way of working out. One study found that when presented with a choice of two cars to buy, the group that went with their first impression picked the better car 45 percent more often than the group that had detailed information about each. But it gets weirder, people who go with their gut are also significantly better at correctly deciding things that will happen in the future, including the weather, the stock market, and elections.

5. Read a Novel

Reading literary fiction dramatically improves your ability to understand and empathize with other people, therefore improving your decision-making skills. Even reading just ten pages of a novel will make you better able to see other people’s points of views and to understand where they are coming from, which allows you to take their feelings into consideration when making a decision.

6. Learn a Foreign Language

Because foreign languages are always a bit alien to us, they don’t affect us emotionally as much as our native tongue—which can be a good thing when making decisions. Since the emotional framework that surrounds many decisions doesn’t touch you in a different language, it's easier to concentrate on the facts and make a logical decision based on them alone.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]