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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, VIII

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Today we continue our journey through the archives of The New York Times. If you're new to the series, we've been digging up first mentions worth mentioning. Let's get right to it.

Bob Dylan

September 29, 1961

20-Year-Old Singer Is Bright New Face At Gerde's Club
Resembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.
* * * * *
But if not for every taste, his music-making has the mark of originality and inspiration, all the more noteworthy for his youth. Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.

New York Jets

April 16, 1963

Titans Get A New Coach (Ewbank) And A New Name (Jets)
NYJets.jpgWilbur (Weeb) Ewbank, as expected, was appointed yesterday as coach and general manager of New York's American Football League team for three years. But the name he will be expected to cover with gridiron glory was, unexpectedly, announced as the Jets. It used to be the Titans. The Jets, which rhymes with Mets, was selected from more than 300 possible names submitted by friends, enemies and advertising agencies.
* * * * *
The Jets symbolizes the site of Shea Stadium (where the Jets think they'll play this fall) between two major airports, the spirit of modern times and the speed and eagerness of all concerned. Gothams, Borros and Dodgers were other leading contenders. Dodgers was discarded because the baseball people were not in favor. Borros (a pun on boroughs) was discarded because there was fear the team would be called the jackasses, and Gothams was dismissed because someone said that it would be shortened to Goths "“ "and you know they weren't such nice people."

Read on for The McLauhlin Group, David Sedaris, war on terror and Barbie.

The McLaughlin Group

October 20, 1982

Now Playing At The Zoo
mclaughlin-john-crop.jpg A weekend visitor to the National Zoo was surprised to discover a group of apes peering through the bars of their cage at a television set, looking like many other Washington viewers, reasonably attentive to the political talk show being broadcast but not stirred to excitement. The apes were following The McLaughlin Group on the local NBC channel in which four journalists discuss current events under the guidance of John J. McLaughlin. He is a former Jesuit priest who served as a special assistant in the Nixon White House.
* * * * *
Research determined that the apes have been watching television for years and are the only zoo inmates so privileged. The 12-inch portable is shifted periodically between the gorillas and the orangutans; they have no voice in the programming, which is determined by the keeper. No one has tried to determine whether the specialized audience favors Days of Our Lives, say, over reruns of Wild Kingdom.

David Sedaris

July 4, 1993

He Does Radio And Windows
sedaris.jpg As his celebrity sprouted this spring, David Sedaris was visited in New York by a fan from Dallas, who asked him excitedly, "What's it like to wake up in the morning and be David Sedaris?" On a recent hot summer morning, being David Sedaris meant sticking your hand into the toilet in the Gramercy Park apartment of a personal trainer and doing a vigorous scrub. It meant washing the man's dishes and cleaning his cat's litter box, changing the sheets and vacuuming the worn carpet. Then it meant going to another apartment and doing roughly the same thing. Most mornings, Mr. Sedaris said, with his high-tech retractable feather duster sticking from his back pocket, "I'm a maid."
* * * * *
But earlier that morning, not long before he started cleaning for $10 an hour, Mr. Sedaris's high-pitched, acidic voice was heard by the estimated one million people who listen to "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio as he read excerpts from the diaries he has kept for 15 years. Each month, as the show broadcasts his thoughts on being an unrepentant smoker, on falling in love too easily, on soap operas and on men who love women who grow too much (and are subjects in Giantess magazine), Mr. Sedaris becomes more of a minor phenomenon.
* * * * *
Larry Charles called Mr. Sedaris to discuss the possibility of his writing for Seinfeld, but the producer said last week that he now thinks Mr. Sedaris might be too idiosyncratic even for Seinfeld. "He seems like a guy who's really committed to his art," Mr. Charles said. "He would clean apartments so he can read these things on the radio."

War On Terror

December 4, 1934

Soviet Arrests 71 In War On 'Terror'
USSR.jpg Spurred by the assassination of Sergei M. Kiroff, the Soviet Government has struck its heaviest blow in years at those whom it regards as plotters of terroristic acts against Soviet officials. With dramatic suddenness it was announced early this morning that seventy-one persons had been arrested and haled to trial before the military collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR. Thirty-two of these were seized in the Moscow region and thirty-nene in the Leningrad region. They are stigmatized as "White Guards" and accused of plotting terroristic activities.
* * * * *
By the terms of a decree adopted by the central government immediately after the Kremlin received the news of M. Kiroff's death, terrorists and plotters are to be tried swiftly and to be executed immediately without opportunity for appeal.

Barbie

February 7, 1959

Booming Business Built By Husband And Wife Team
barbie.jpegFifteen years ago Elliott and Ruth Handler were a suburban couple doing spare-time tinkering with handicrafts in their garage. Today they head a $14 million-a-year business that has been mushrooming at a rate of 50% a year and is third in its field. The field: toys.
* * * * *
The operations of their company, Mattel, Inc., are so rigorously organized that the Handlers sometimes wonder why they are still making toys. "With our system," Ruth said whimsically, "we might just as well be turning out real airplanes or missiles."
* * * * *
To balance the heavy male emphasis in toy guns, the Handlers this year are bringing out a doll "“ eleven inches high and named "Barbie," after their 17-year-old daughter....The doll has a teen-age figure, contrasting with the infantile rotundity traditionally given dolls to simplify clothes-making. To produce at a feasible cost "Barbie's" twenty-two costume wardrobe, the Handlers have opened a production branch in Japan's even though it means paying a 35% import tariff. They also are making a line of doll furniture in Japan. Their experience "“ bolstered by a brigade of slide-rule artists "“ gives them confidence that this time they'll make a profit on it.

Got a suggestion for Volume IX? Leave it in the comments.
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, I
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, II
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, III
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, IV
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, V
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, VI
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, VII

T.jpgWant complete access to The New York Times archives, which go all the way back to 1851? Become an NYT subscriber.

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technology
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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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