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9 People Who Just Did It Anyway

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Gettu Images

This week’s mental_floss video entitled 18 Famous People Who Are Missing Body Parts reminded me that April is Limb Loss Awareness Month. You may be aware that we have a continuing series about people who are technically classified as “disabled,” but don’t let it get in the way of doing as they please. While it’s still April, let’s meet some other people who are excelling in areas they weren’t supposed to because of lost limbs or other anomalies.

1. Baxter Humby

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Baxter Humby, nicknamed “One Arm Bandit,” is an MMA fighter and Muay Thai Kickboxer. He is currently the IMTC World Super Welterweight Champion. Shortly after birth, Humby’s right hand and most of his forearm was amputated due to injury from a tangled umbilical cord. He started running at a young age, made the Canadian National Paralympic Track Team, and participated in the Paralympics in 1992 and 1994. He took up martial arts at 17.

In addition to holding various martial arts championships, Humby teaches at both a martial arts school and his local YMCA, and finds time for motivational speaking as well. Humby also has his hand in show business: he starred in the Chinese film One Arm Hero, appeared on the TV show The Shield, and worked as a stunt man on the film Spider-Man 3.

2. Randy Pierce

Randy Pierce grew up in New Hampshire, a fan of sports, nature, and the New England Patriots. At age 22, his vision began to fail due to a neurological disorder. Eventually he went blind, and twelve years later, the disorder confined him to a wheelchair. Pierce was determined to regain his mobility, and worked for two years to leave the wheelchair. When he succeeded, Pierce and his guide dog Quinn climbed all 48 of the 4000+ foot peaks in the New Hampshire White Mountains! Pierce founded the organization 2020 Vision Quest, in order to funnel the funds he raised through mountain climbing to charities for the blind.

3. Lee Reid

Illustration by Joshua Drummond.

Lee Reid is a musician and composer who has a Master’s in Neuroscience from the University of Auckland. Ironically, as an adult he was stricken with a mysterious and painful neurological disorder that affected his hands. Reid could no longer work, nor could he play music. He still wanted to compose, but even with computer software, he couldn’t use his hands to control what he wrote. Reid came to the conclusion that he would have to design his own software. He read up on programming, and, using a mouse with his foot, created a composing program one character at a time. It took a year, and the result is Musink, a program in which you can write music notation with only a mouse, available free to download.

Two years after Reid lost the use of his hands, an experimental treatment restored enough function for him to return to neuroscience for a living, although he still suffers with pain. You can read an illustrated version of his story at Cakeburger

4. Nico Calabria

Nineteen-year-old Nicolai Calabria graduated from high school as an all-around athlete. He was co-captain of the wrestling team, midfielder for the soccer team, and hiked to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. He’s now working as a gymnastic instructor and a motivational speaker. All this, despite the fact that he was born without his left leg and hip. This fall, Calabria will travel with the US National Amputee Soccer Team to the 2014 Amputee World Cup in Mexico. He will also begin his college career at Colorado College. That’s a pretty good resume for a 19-year-old! See Calabria in action on video

5. Jahmir Wallace

Jahmir Wallace of Phillipsburg, New Jersey, was born without arms, so he does everything with his feet. The dexterity the fifth-grader developed with his toes is serving him well as he learns to play the trumpet. But even more important is Wallace’s can-do attitude.

“My older sister used to play the piano. So I thought maybe I should try an instrument. I thought maybe I could try and figure out new things,” he said.

6. Barney Miller

Photograph from No Means Go.

Barney Miller is an Australian surfer who was severely injured in a traffic accident 15 years ago. With his neck broken, he was told he’d never breathe on his own again, much less walk. With determination and hard work, he took his first steps with a walker last year. He is also in the water constantly, surfing with friends despite his lack of movement. Miller is the subject of a documentary called No Means Go which is in production now. 

7. Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham

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In 2010, hardcore sitter (extreme wheelchair athlete) Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham became the first person to successfully execute a double backflip in a wheelchair. Seeing just a part of what he went through to perfect the stunt will make you cringe, but it paid off. Born with spina bifida, Fotherington was also the first athlete to perform a single backflip in a wheelchair when he was only 14 years old! From his biography

After posting that “first ever back flip” on the Internet, life has changed for Aaron; he has had the opportunity to travel within the US, as well as internationally, performing and speaking in front of many. He has attended summer camps for disabled children as a coach/mentor. He has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and sports television. He receives and responds to e-mails from all over the world.

Aaron enjoys showing young kids with disabilities that a wheelchair can be a toy, not a restriction. He loves helping younger children learn how to handle their chairs in new and different ways and teaching them a trick or two.

Someday he hopes to design “the most wicked” chair in the world.

See a more recent video of Fotheringham showing off here.

8. Annette Gabbedey

British goldsmith Annette Gabbedey has been crafting custom jewelry and setting precious gems for 24 years, despite the fact that she was born without fingers. The "about" page at her business site doesn't even mention the lack of fingers, but as you can see from the picture, she doesn't hide it.

Gabbedey doesn't consider herself disabled, just different. She doesn't use special tools, but has her own method of using regular jeweler's tools, like setting the piece she's working on in a vice, and keeping a strap around her wrist to set a tool into. Gabbedey says fingers would just get in her way! See more pictures here.

9. Jorge Dyksen

Photograph from Twitter.

Jorge Dyksen is a 16-year-old high school soccer player, despite the fact that both his arms and both his legs were amputated due to a massive infection when he was a toddler. Adopted from Panama, he now lives in Haledon, New Jersey. He is the starting forward on the junior varsity team at Manchester Regional High School. See a video of Jorge in action.

See more stories of people with amazing accomplishments in previous posts of this continuing series.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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