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Wikipedia (Garry Knight) / YouTube / Impatient Optimists

5 Inspiring People Living With Polio

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Wikipedia (Garry Knight) / YouTube / Impatient Optimists

Although most Americans think of polio as a thing of the past, it's a disease of the present for many people. Plenty of prominent Americans are polio survivors, including actor Alan Alda, director Francis Ford Coppola, and senator Mitch McConnell. You've probably heard of their accomplishments, so let's look at five more people living with polio in America and around the world—and why their work to end polio is at a crucial moment.

1. Ramesh Ferris, Polio Crusader (Canada)

Impatient Optimists

Ramesh Ferris was born in India in 1979, and he contracted polio when he was just six months old. His mother couldn't take care of him, and placed him in an orphanage a year later. A Canadian family adopted him, gave him top-notch medical care, and Ferris learned to walk (with the aid of crutches and braces). Eventually he returned to India to meet his biological mother, and there he saw the effects of polio on the poor:

"The meeting with my mother was emotional and I was very happy. But what changed my life forever was the moment I saw a polio survivor crawling on the road with the help of [tires]. I was shocked and just thought to myself if I hadn't got any treatment, I would have been crawling to survive too," he said.

Ferris dedicated his life to polio eradication. In 2008 he founded the Cycle to Walk Canada event, and hand-cycled 4,400 miles across Canada to raise awareness (and money). The journey took 174 days. Along the way, he conducted interviews, spoke to community groups, and raised over $300,000. He then wrote a memoir, Better Than a Cure, One Man’s Journey to Free the World of Polio, donating the proceeds to Rotary PolioPlus for a Polio Free World. (Rotarians are major supporters of polio eradication efforts.)

Ramesh's work is not done yet. In 2013 he wrote, "[P]olio isn’t just a grandparents’ disease – I’m a 33-year-old survivor. In my other home country, India, memories of its debilitating effects are still fresh, and in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria, polio fears remain a daily reality. That’s why I’ve made it my life goal to achieve a polio-free world."


2. Dennis Ogbe, Paralympian (United States)

Dennis Ogbe contracted polio at age 3 in his birth country of Nigeria. Despite being paralyzed in one leg, he grew up to become a Paralympic athlete, competing in track and field—he took home a gold medal when he competed in 2000. Now living in Kentucky, Ogbe has made it onto the US team. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Ogbe holds an MBA. He lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter, and has earned a bunch of medals.

Here's a nice profile from his local news station:

3. Qari Aqeel, Teacher (Pakistan)

Qari Aqeel teaches at a Pakistani madrasa. Pakistan is one of three remaining countries where polio is endemic, and the situation for aid workers there is grim. Here's a short video in which Aqeel explains his story, and why he works to combat polio.


4. Ade Adepitan, Wheelchair Basketball Great and Broadcaster (United Kingdom)

Ade Adepitan was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and contracted polio as an infant. His family moved to the UK when he was 3 years old, where Adepitan discovered wheelchair basketball when he was 12. He played in the Paralympics, winning various medals, and has since become a TV personality in the UK. Here's a video telling his story:

In 2013, Adepitan returned to Nigeria, where kids are still getting polio. He wrote about his experience.


5. Minda Dentler, Ironman Triathlete (United States)

Paul Phillips / Competitive Image

Minda Dentler was born in India, where she contracted polio at a young age. She lived in an orphanage, until she was adopted by an American family and moved to Spokane, Washington. After surgery, she learned to walk with the assistance of braces and crutches.

In 2006, Dentler completed her first marathon, hand-cycling the whole way. But she didn't stop there—in the span of five years, she completed 10 marathons. From there she moved on to triathlons; to date, she has completed 14 Olympic triathlons and seven Half-Ironman triathlons. In 2013, Dentler became the first woman hand-cyclist to complete the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. She wrote:

I added my name to the Ironman World Championship history books on October 12, 2013 with my 14:39:14 finish in Kona, becoming the first official woman handcyclist to complete this event, by swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean, handcycling 112 miles in heat and wind, and pushing a racing wheelchair 26.2 miles.

After her record-setting accomplishment, Dentler was profiled on CNN:


What's Next for Polio Eradication

India has made tremendous strides in fighting polio; in 2009, India accounted for nearly half of the world's new polio cases. Today, there are none. There have been no new cases of polio reported in India since January 13, 2011.

No new cases are expected, meaning India—and 10 other countries—will be certified polio-free in the next few months. This effort has taken more than a million people working together, including the people listed above. When that certifiation occurs, it will mean that all of Southeast Asia is polio-free; the world will then focus on the last three countries where polio is endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

Here's a photo of Ramesh Ferris, the man from item #1 above, with a little girl named Ruksar. She is India's last wild polio patient.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.