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11 Things You Might Not Know About Make-A-Wish

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Since being formed in 1980, the Phoenix-based Make-A-Wish Foundation has become synonymous with fostering goodwill toward children with serious illnesses. Anyone under the age of 18 can petition the organization with a request for a trip, celebrity visit, or other special arrangement. In almost all cases, they’ll grant the child’s wish via fundraising efforts and the generosity of volunteers. An average of one wish is granted every 35 minutes

Take a look at 11 other facts that help illustrate how these donors and good samaritans can give an ailing child a reason to smile.

1. THE FIRST MAKE-A-WISH RECIPIENT GOT THREE WISHES.

Make-A-Wish began in the spring of 1980, when officers at Arizona’s Department of Public Safety learned that 7-year-old leukemia patient Chris Greicius longed to experience what it was like to be a police officer. After seeing how happy it made Greicius to wear a uniform and go on patrol, Arizona DPS officer Frank Shankwitz and his fellow officers started the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help others like him.

In 1981, Poncho “Bopsy” Salazar became the first child granted a wish under their banner. Like Greicius, he was a 7-year-old with leukemia; the Foundation arranged for Salazar to hop on a fire truck, visit Disneyland, and take a ride in a hot air balloon. The story received national coverage and led to a number of chapters opening up around the country.

2. SORRY, BUT THEY WON’T TAKE YOU HUNTING.

Make-A-Wish tries to do everything in its collective power to fulfill the dreams of kids with life-threatening illnesses, but they draw the line at one request: They can’t take anyone hunting. Since 2000, the company has prohibited their funds or volunteers from facilitating a hunting trip, citing safety concerns and protests from animal rights organizations. In 1996, the Foundation was criticized for helping a teenager realize his dream to shoot and kill a Kodiak bear in Alaska. The organization also draws the line at any wish involving firearms.

3. HALF OF ALL WISHES INVOLVE DISNEY.

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While children have a variety of wishes they’d like granted, the Mouse seems to take up a large part of their ambitions. According to Make-A-Wish, Disney’s theme parks, princesses, and other properties make up approximately half of all wishes granted. Through 2015, that means more than 100,000 Disney-related requests were fulfilled.

4. ONE KID WANTED TO STAR IN A GODZILLA MOVIE.

In 2014, a 5-year-old boy named Maddex came to the attention of the Chicago chapter of Make-A-Wish for wishing to destroy the city. To accommodate him, a film crew was assembled that allowed Maddex to dress up as Godzilla (or “Madzilla”) and stomp all over a tiny replica of the skyline. The five-minute film was estimated to cost roughly $1 million in expenses and donated time.

5. THEY SEND KIDS TO THE SUPER BOWL EVERY YEAR.

Seats for the Super Bowl can be nearly impossible to come by, but Make-A-Wish’s relationship with the NFL means many wishers get VIP access to the stadium. The organizations have collaborated every year since 1982 to make sure at least one is in attendance; 13 kids attended Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco last year.

6. SOME KIDS DONATE THEIR WISHES TO OTHERS.

There’s no binding legalese that says a Make-A-Wish recipient has to keep a wish to themselves. When 12-year-old Lucas Hobbs became eligible for a wish after being diagnosed with stage-3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he decided to use it to pay back the Minnesota hospital that took care of him while he was undergoing chemotherapy. He had a food truck park outside the facility and took orders from patients who wanted something a little more tasty than the standard-issue hospital fare. He even named a hot dog after his favorite staff member, calling it a “Perkins dog”after his oncologist, Dr. Joanna Perkins.

7. ONE KID’S WISH GOT A LITTLE OUT OF HAND.

In 1989, 7-year-old Craig Shergold pleaded with Atlanta-based Wish Foundation International to assist him with his goal of breaking the Guinness World Record for most get well cards received. Within a year, he garnered over 16 million cards—and it never quite stopped. The flow of letters and correspondence continued unabated, with chain letters urging others to forward mail to Shergold expressing moral support for his struggle with a brain tumor. Make-A-Wish was forced to set up a special hotline to inform the public that they had no involvement in the movement, which went on to top 100 million cards. In 1999, a healthy Shergold asked people to stop. To this day, the Foundation has a page warning that any mail intended for Shergold is forwarded to a recycling center.

8. YOU CAN DONATE TO HELP FULFILL SPECIFIC WISHES.

For decades, Make-A-Wish accepted financial donations without necessarily earmarking the funds for any specific purpose; donors wouldn’t be sure which wish was funded by their generosity. In 2016, the Foundation introduced Wishmaker, an online fundraising portal that allows donors to read personalized stories about wishers and donate funds to help them meet their goal. The Foundation is hoping that individualized projects may help in covering the uptick in wish-related expenses, which now average $10,130, up 30 percent from 2010.

9. JOHN CENA IS A M-A-W LEGEND.

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It’s surprising professional wrestler John Cena has any time to train or take bumps in a World Wrestling Entertainment ring. The sports entertainer granted his 500th wish in 2015, becoming the first celebrity to cross that milestone in the Foundation’s history. (Justin Bieber comes in second, with over 250 wishes to meet him granted.)

10. MACY’S HAS DONATED OVER $100 MILLION.

Make-A-Wish relies heavily on the generosity of donors in order to keep the wishes coming. Retail giant Macy’s has done more than their share, donating over $100 million since 2003. Make-A-Wish estimates that their contributions have directly impacted more than 13,000 kids.

11. THERE’S ONE OTHER THING THEY JUST CAN’T DO.

Virtually anything a child can fantasize about is open for discussion, but Make-A-Wish draws one other hard line beyond their no-hunting-or-firearms mandate: You cannot make a wish for unlimited wishes.  

If you’d like to learn more about Make-A-Wish or volunteer your time and support, visit Make-A-Wish.com.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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