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7 Politicians Who Appeared on Game Shows

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As we’ve been seeing lately, everything politicians have done since birth ends up being in the news—especially during election time. Game show appearances are no exception, so check out these seven politico contestants. Some did surprisingly well; others should definitely stick to their day jobs.

1. Ronald Reagan on I’ve Got a Secret, 1961

A pre-politics Reagan gives Henry Morgan and Steve Allen a radio announcer’s test to see if he can make them laugh in the middle of the “audition.” If you’ve ever wanted to see the 40th President of the United States blow up a balloon using a trumpet, here’s your chance. The whole thing is quite charming.

2. Senator John McCain on Jeopardy!, 1965

If you think John McCain has gotten over his loss in Final Jeopardy almost 50 years ago, you’d be wrong. He still remembers the exact question: “Cathy loved him, but married Edgar Linton instead.” Brontë buffs, of course, know that the answer is Heathcliff. But McCain could only recall the name of the book and answered as such: “What is Wuthering Heights?”

3. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on The Dating Game, 1978

When Jennifer Granholm was 19, she probably had no idea that she would someday have a career in politics, which is too bad—she might have asked the host to refer to her as something other than “cute and curvaceous.” Granholm is semi-apologetic about the wall o’ hair, though. “This is what being a teenager in the '70s gets you,” she said. “I was having a bad hair decade.”

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work out with the bachelor she picked. Just for reference, here’s Jennifer at the Democratic National Convention this year.

4. Congressman Rush Holt on Jeopardy!, 2011 (and more)

Rush Holt, representative from New Jersey, didn’t just clean up on Jeopardy!—he actually beat IBM supercomputer Watson last year. But no one should be surprised: Not only is Holt a politician, a nuclear physicist and a patent holder, he’s a five-time Jeopardy! champ.

5. Then-Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter on What’s My Line, 1974

The best part is when Dana comments on how spiritual Jimmy Carter looks and wonders if he recruits nuns.

6. Gerald Ford on What’s My Line, 1969

Carter wasn’t the first future president to appear on the game show. Gerald Ford made an appearance nearly five years before when he was the House Minority Leader.

7. Bill Clinton on Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!, 2012

Earlier this year, Bill went three for three during the quiz portion of NPR’s Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!. The topic? The TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Start at about 9:00 in for the quiz, but the rest of the interview is pretty interesting if you’ve got a few minutes.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]