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7 Ways to Break Your Technology Addiction

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Chances are, you have checked your email, your Facebook feed, and your fantasy football roster in the past few minutes. We’re more connected than ever before, and our dependence on our devices is getting worse. Over 40 percent of us check our phones within five minutes of waking up in the morning, and nearly half check up to 25 times a day, according to a 2015 study by Deloitte.

You might be hesitant to call your reliance on technology an addiction, but it's true that your partner has asked you to put away your phone on more than one occasion. Want to detach your phone from your hand? We promise this will only sting a little.


It’s usually in your idle moments that you reach for your phone, says Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy, a comprehensive treatment center for teens. So Monroe suggests creating a list of what you can do in your idle moments instead of scrolling.

“If your first impulse when you get a quiet moment is to reach for your device, remind yourself of half a dozen other things you could be doing instead that would be more meaningful and relaxing: taking a walk, writing a love note with paper and pen, dancing to your favorite song, doing a few stretches, meditating for 10 minutes,” Monroe says. The key is to come up with options that appeal to you.


There are apps that tell you how many times you’ve checked your phone that day, that warn you if you’re going over your self-imposed Internet limit, that lock your phone for a specified amount of time, and block distractions like games, Monroe says.


While putting away your phone or turning off the computer is the simplest way to unplug, doing so is usually easier said than done. “If left to our own devices, we’ll always be on them,” says David Ryan Polgar, a tech ethicist and co-founder of the Digital Citizenship Summit. Your willpower is no match for the savvy startups and multi-billion dollar companies fighting for your attention. "We should own up to being over-matched, and find better ways to remove the temptation,” Polgar says.


An hour before you go to sleep, power down all tech devices. “The blue wavelength light from our screens interrupts production of melatonin—known as the darkness hormone—which gives our brain the signal that it’s time to sleep,” Monroe says. “Leave the devices in another room so you’re not tempted.”


While some people love to brag about their digital hiatuses, these may seem intimidating (if not straight-up impossible) for you to take, says David Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Connecticut. So it’s totally okay to start small.

Greenfield suggests starting by turning your phone off during dinner. Then, leave it at home when you take a walk. Bump that digital detox up to three hours, and you’re doing great. “You should set limits regularly, but I’d be happy with three hours for some people, as some people won’t even eat a meal without their phones,” Greenfield says. “Any change in the right direction is better than no change.”


The smartphone is the world’s smallest slot machine, Greenfield says. “It elevates your dopamine receptors, and you continue that behavior over and over again because it offers an unpredictable award,” just like gambling, he says. Simply turning off the notifications will make you less likely to look at your phone every few seconds.


Write down times throughout the day when you plan to take technology breaks, says Craig Donovan, Director of the BA/MPA Honors Program at Keane University in New Jersey. For example, you could commit to taking a break from 3 to 3:15 p.m. on workday afternoons, during which time you turn off your phone and put it out of sight and out of reach. “Plan a specific activity to do during those 15 minutes, such as getting up and going for a [mindful] walk,” Donovan says. You can reward yourself with a small treat such as a cookie or a cup of coffee. Try to add additional times away from technology, such as during meals, and pay attention to what is going on around you.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]