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Tuesday Turnip: 9 Little-Known Facts about Honest Abe

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lincoln_abraham_photograph.jpgIt's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting factoids "turn-up."
In honor of Lincoln's birthday, today I typed in "Abraham Lincoln" + "little-known facts" unearthing the following from a couple different sites, but mostly this one.

Lincoln was the only President ever to obtain a patent. In 1849 he invented a complicated device for lifting ships over dangerous shoals by means of "buoyant air chambers." Much to Lincoln's disappointment, U.S. Patent No. 6,469 was never put into practical use.

The clutter in Lincoln's law office was notorious, and a continual source of irritation to his partner, William Herndon. On his desk, Lincoln kept one envelope marked "When you can't find it anywhere else, look into this."

Lincoln was the 1st major leader in our history to favor extending the vote to women.
In 1836--a full 12 years before the 1st woman's rights convention had even convened--State legislator Lincoln gave an Illinois paper a statement endorsing "female suffrage."

In 1858, Lincoln was so concerned that the text of his "House divided" speech be reported accurately, that even after he had given a copy of the address to reporters, he insisted on going to the newspaper office himself and proofreading the galleys.

In 1842, Lincoln accepted a challenge to a duel from James Shields, the Democratic State auditor. Shields was furious over a satiric letter in a local paper. Actually, the letter had been written by Lincoln's fiancee, Mary Todd, but Lincoln willingly took responsibility. Since he was given the choice of weapons, Lincoln, with typical cunning, selected broadswords--with his 6'4" frame and his enormous arms, Lincoln had an insurmountable advantage over his disminutive opponent when it came to dueling with swords. Shields wisely decided to make up his differences with Lincoln and the scheduled duel failed to take place.

It is well known that Lincoln used to pace the White House long past midnight during the years of the Civil War; what is less celebrated is his habit of imposing his insomnia on his overworked aides. Often, he would keep his young personal secretary, John Hay, awake, listening to the funny stories that Lincoln loved to tell. ("Without these stories I would die," he once said.) On one occasion, according to Hay, "he read Shakespeare to me, the end of Henry VIII and the beginning of Richard III, till my heavy eyelids caught his considerate notice and he sent me to bed."

Frederick Douglass, the celebrated black abolitionist and former slave, was invited by Lincoln to the inaugural reception in 1865, but when Douglass tried to enter, policemen man-handled him and forced him back out. Making his way in again, he managed to catch Lincoln's eye. "Here comes my friend Douglass," the President exclaimed, and, leaving his circle of guests, he took Douglass by the hand and began to chat with him.

After the death of his son Willie, Lincoln was persuaded by his wife to participate in several seances held in the White House. The President was deeply interested in psychic phenomena and wanted to communicate with his dead son. Once Lincoln reported that he had attended a seance in which a piano was raised and moved around the room. It was the professional opinion of the mediums who had worked with him that Lincoln was definitely the possessor of extraordinary psychic powers.

Lincoln took his dreams seriously. On one occasion he wrote to his wife to be watchful with their son Tad because Lincoln had experienced an "unpleasant" dream. On the day of his assassination, April 14, 1865, he was so troubled by a dream that he actually discussed it at a Cabinet meeting. He told his colleagues that he had seen himself sailing "in an indescribable vessel and moving rapidly toward an indistinct shore." Even more explicit was a dream that he discussed just a week before he was shot. In his dream, Lincoln awoke, and walked through the silent White House, following the sound of sobbing. When he came to the East Room, he saw a catafalque draped in black. "Who is dead?" Lincoln asked. A military guard replied that it was the President.

    Browse through past Tuesday Turnips here>>

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    iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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    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
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    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]

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