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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XX

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Every Monday, mental_floss finds the first time The New York Times mentioned select topics. If you have a suggestion for our next episode, leave us a comment.


July 14, 1985

Is it Wrestling or Theater?
wrestlemania.jpg Make no mistake. Professional wrestling is low comedy, but it has become thoroughly respectable. These days it increasingly attracts a mixed, middle-class crowd, with audiences up a full third over last year. The most recent ''WrestleMania'' in March drew an overflow crowd of 25,000 to Madison Square Garden, while an estimated one million others watched the show on closed-circuit television throughout the country and many more in 24 nations abroad. Scalpers were demanding $100 a ticket to see Hulk Hogan and Mr. T have at Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul (Mr. Wonderful) Orndorff. The show included Muhammad Ali as referee, New York Yankee manager Billy Martin as announcer, Liberace as timekeeper and the Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall.

Phil Knight

April 25, 1959

Illinois Breaks College Record In Drake Sprint Medley Relay
knight-oregon.jpg A brilliant half-mile anchor leg by Jamaican George Kerr today gave Illinois' sprint medley relay team an American collegiate record of 3 minutes, 17.8 seconds. The race, high mark of the golden anniversary Drake Relays, had Illinois' baton men running this way: Del Coleman 440 yards, John Lattimore 220, Ward Miller 220 and Kerr 880.

Summaries of Finals

Four-Mile Relay: 1. Oregon (Mack Robbins, Phil Knight, George Larson, Jim Grelle); 2. Nebraska; 3. Houston; 4. Iowa State; 5. Arkansas. Time "“ 17:15.2 (Meet record; former record, 17:15.9, set by Kansas, 1952).

Keep reading for Mary Matalin, 'My Two Dads,' John McEnroe and more.

My Two Dads

September 19, 1987

Two New NBC Comedy Series
my_two_dads_2.jpgIn the category of just plain old premiere, NBC has My Two Dads, being introduced tomorrow night at 8:30, immediately after the popular Family Ties but up against the formidable CBS competition of Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote. The plot of My Two Dads makes Mama's Boy seem like a well-made Ibsen play. Michael Jacobs is the executive producer and writer.

Two men in their 30's "“ one a suit-and-tie type with appointment book, the other a carefree, T-shirted artist "“ are summoned to a lawyer's office for a reading of a will. It seems that the former college roommates were once in love with the same young woman in Key West. She has died "“ the details are gently skipped over "“ and left her 12-year-old daughter in their care. It also seems that either of them could be the real father. You can just imagine the contrived fun.
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Meanwhile, the two dads are constantly bickering. Michael (Paul Reiser), the yuppie one, is a fretting mass of responsibility. Joey (Greg Evigan) is a bearded testimonial to unreliability. All would seem doomed, but there's a sitcom at stake here. Arguing about their old girlfriend, the dads suddenly realize: "Now that we're going to become fathers, why don't we become adults, too?" Well, perhaps just for a moment or two.

Mary Matalin

September 12, 1987

In Iowa, Republicans Who Pay Their Money Can Vote Their Choice
carville-matalin.jpg At what they call "The 1987 Presidential Cavalcade of Stars," Iowa Republicans plan to raise a lot of money on Saturday night and give all the party's 1988 candidates a chance to set forth their messages. The gathering at the campus of Iowa State University in Ames has become the symbolic coming-out party for a campaign that has really been going on for months.

The event will mark the first time that Vice President Bush has agreed to appear on the same platform as his main adversaries, including such lesser challengers as the Rev. Pat Robertson and former Gov. Pierre S. du Pont 4th of Delaware.
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"We are kind of heartsick that they put on the straw ballot," said Mary Matalin, Mr. Bush's Midwest coordinator, while volunteers lettered Bush for President banners at 10:30 Thusday night amid pledge cards of Bush supporters who were being asked to make the trek. "This is the month we were putting together our precinct organization, which is far more important than driving six hours to Ames."

Mr. Bush is generally seen as the favorite on Saturday, even though the latest Des Moines Register poll put him neck-and-neck with Senator Bob Dole of Kansas among Iowa Republicans considered likely to attend next February's precinct caucuses. This is because Mr. Bush has deep organizational roots here that go back to his upset victory over Ronald Reagan in the 1980 caucuses.

John McEnroe

August 7, 1970

mcenroe.jpgGiammalva, McEnroe Win Metropolitan Tennis Titles
Tony Giammalva of White Plains and John McEnroe of Douglaston, Queens, won singles titles yesterday in Metropolitan boys' tennis....McEnroe, seeded first, won the 12-years division at the North Shore Tennis and Racquets Club by defeating Joe Rosenberg of Roslyn Heights, L.I., 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

David Ogilvy

May 28, 1940

Gallup Survey of the Audience Interest in Pictures Is Being Conducted for Company
ogilvy.jpgDr. George Gallup, head of the Institute of Public Opinion [has] been engaged to conduct a "scientific study of the motion picture public and the tastes, habits, and interests of picture patrons." He stated that the chief function of the new organization which Dr. Gallup will organize for this purpose will be to "scientifically assist and guide the studio in its selection of stories, casts and titles."

The new Gallup unit will be known as the Audience Research Institute and will conduct its surveys from headquarters in Princeton, NJ. He emphasized that the bureau is entirely separate from the Institute of Public Opinion, which now is making a survey on the double-feature question, and said it would operate solely in the interests of RKO films. David Ogilvy will direct the bureau.

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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]