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The World Wishes Colin Happy Birthday

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Colin will turn eleven years old on March 9. On February 2, his mother Jennifer created a Facebook page and told us a little about Colin.

I am Colin's mom, I created this page for my amazing, wonderful, challenging son who is about to turn 11 on March 9th. Because of Colin's disabilities, social skills are not easy for him, and he often acts out in school, and the other kids don't like him. So when I asked him if he wanted a party for his birthday, he said there wasn't a point because he has no friends. He eats lunch alone in the office everyday because no one will let him sit with them, and rather than force someone to be unhappy with his presence, he sits alone in the office. So I thought, if I could create a page where people could send him positive thoughts and encouraging words, that would be better than any birthday party. Please join me in making my very original son feel special on his day.

Since then, the page has gone viral, both on and off the internet. The Facebook page has received 1.9 million likes, and the initial post has over 187,000 comments -and the other posts each have thousands of comments and shares. Due to popular demand, Jennifer rented a post office box to receive cards and letters from Colin’s fans. The address is:
Colin-
PO Box 756
Richland, MI 49083-0756
USA  

As you can see, a lot of people have taken the snail mail approach! Colin’s parents have shielded him from the Facebook project and the resulting publicity as best they can so far, so the page and the correspondence will be a birthday surprise for him. But he is excited about turning eleven. This video was recorded this past weekend.

The responses are coming in in the form of cards and letters at the post office box and online, from comments and Facebook messages, from news reports all over the world, and from Facebook users who sent pictures and videos created especially for Colin.

The Rosenberg Police Department of Rosenberg, Texas, made a video greeting for Colin. Photograph from the Rosenberg Police Department. The sorority Alpha Xi Delta at Indiana University made a video to wish Colin a happy birthday.

Luselys Lugardo sent video greetings along with her Army compatriots.

Colin says that when he grows up, he wants to be either a pastor, a comedian, or a missionary. Comedian John Heffron votes for comedian. Heffron sent not only his best wishes in a video, but involved a bunch of his friends, too. He’s a real standup guy!

Jennifer was quite surprised to see Colin’s story in Arabic in a news story from Jordan. But Colin’s story has also made headlines in Russia, England, Mexico, Japan, Finland, India, Norway, Czech Republic, Portugal, Colombia, Italy, Peru, Poland, Austria, France, Netherlands, Brazil, Switzerland, Australia, Uruguay, Israel, Sweden, Indonesia, Serbia, Denmark, Pakistan, Faroe Islands, Bosnia, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Germany, Belgium, Paraguay, Ireland, Turkey, Canada (Quebec), Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, and Lithuania. But those are just the links posted at the Facebook page, and there are many other nations represented in the comments that people have left.

From Rachael Spiess.

From Bianca Romeiro.

From Baran Ketabi.

From Jinger Brinkley.

From Emilie Chauvin Giroire

So many people cannot wait to see Colin’s reaction when he finds out about all the good wishes from people all over the world. But Colin isn’t the only one benefitting from the project. Jennifer writes:

I am overwhelmed and overjoyed but all the love, support and birthday wishes coming from all over the world for my little man. I can't thank you all enough for everything you've all done. My favorite part of this whole thing has been the messages from parents and teachers who have told me they used Colin's story to talk to their kids. And the kids are responding, and realizing that ostracizing someone is wrong, and that they can make a difference. I love that! We love you all, and we can't wait to share Colin's birthday with all of you!

You can follow the progress of Colin’s birthday surprise at Facebook.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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