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Early Press Clippings of Archie Bunker, Paternity Leave & Tim Russert

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Let's go back into the archives of The New York Times to find the first time the paper covered various topics. This edition features early critical disdain for Archie Bunker, the first story about Sirhan Sirhan and a few Tim Russert mentions.

Archie Bunker

January 12, 1971

Are Racism and Bigotry Funny? CBS 'Family' Series May Shock Some
archie.jpgTonight the Columbia Broadcasting System Television Network will find out if Americans think bigotry and racism, as the prime elements of a situation comedy, are funny.

Is it funny, for example, to have the pot-bellied, church-going, cigar-smoking son of Middle America, Archie Bunker, the hero of All in the Family, fill the screen with such epithets as "spic" and "spade" and "hebe" and "yid" and "polack"? Is it funny for him to refer to his son-in-law as "the laziest white man I ever seen"? Or to look at a televised football game and yell, "Look at that spook's in his blood"?

The answer, I say, is no. None of these is funny....They are not funny because they are there for their shock value, despite CBS's protestations that what are being presented are "familiar stereotypes" with "a humorous spotlight on their prejudices...making them a source of laughter," so "we can show how absurd they are." What is lacking is taste.

Paternity Leave

September 8, 1968

Paternity Leave Urged
Mother should not be the only one coddled a bit after baby's birth, according to RN, the nurses' magazine, UPI reports. It suggested that the father "merits a two-week paternity leave from his work so he can be with his wife during childbirth and help later with the housework."

Sirhan Sirhan

June 6, 1968

Notes on Kennedy in Suspect's Home
Sirhan_Sirhan.gifA notebook found in the Pasadena home of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan had "a direct reference to the necessity to assassinate Senator Kennedy before June 5, 1968," Mayor Samuel W. Yorty of Los Angeles said last night.

The date was the first anniversary of the six-day war, in which Israeli forces smashed those of the United Arab Republic, Syria and Jordan.
* * * * *
John Weidner, owner of the Organic Health Food Store in Pasadena, said he had employed Sirhan Sirhan as a $2-an-hour clerk and deliveryman from last September 24 until March 7, when the man left "because he didn't like what I said about his work."

"He was a man with principles," Mr. Weidner said. "He didn't smoke. He didn't drink. He always said he wouldn't lie. But he was emotional. He would resent authority. He didn't like to take orders."

Tommy John Surgery

October 29, 1988

tommy-john.jpgSurgery for Tudor
John Tudor, the Los Angeles Dodger left-hander who suffered a torn ligament in his pitching elbow after only one and a third innings in the World Series, underwent reconstructive elbow surgery Thursday. Dr. Frank Jobe, the team physician, said the surgery should enable Tudor to return by the middle of next season.

Tudor underwent "Tommy John surgery," which Jobe developed for the former Dodger and current Yankee pitcher in 1974 in which damaged ligament was replaced with a tendon from his left forearm. Jobe also removed frayed cartilage by arthroscope from Tudor's left shoulder and removed two screws from the 34-year-old's right knee, which was broken 16 months ago when Barry Lyons of the Mets crashed into him in the St. Louis Cardinal dugout while chasing a foul pop.

Tim Russert

russert.jpg"¢ Mr. Russert's first appearance in The New York Times came on December 16, 1976, after he and 2,945 others passed the New York State Bar Examination.

"¢ His second mention was April 20, 1977. In the role of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's press assistant, Russert was announcing how much the Senator earned from speaking engagements in 1976 ($152,000).

"¢ In a column about rising political star Mario Cuomo published June 21, 1983, Sydney Schanberg listed Cuomo's strengths as a national candidate, concluding with this: "And last—though not to be overlooked—is the fact that his political strategist is a man he wooed from his job as Senator Moynihan's top aide, Timothy Russert, whose lines to the Washington tastemakers are strong."

"¢ On December 8, 1983, Cuomo told reporters that "Tim has big news." He'd gotten hitched to NBC reporter Maureen Orth.

"¢ And here is Tim Russert's obituary, from Saturday. Though in his case, it's certainly not the last time his name will make the paper. He will be missed.

See all the previous installments of The First Time News Was Fit To Print.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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