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The Quick 10: 10 Nicknames of U.S. First Ladies

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We all know lots about the U.S. Presidents - maybe too much (Monica Lewinsky, anyone?). But most of us don't know that much about the women who stood behind the men in office. Now you'll know a little bit more about 10 of them.

10 Nicknames of U.S. First Ladies

1. Lemonade Lucy, Lucy Hayes. Ulysses S. Grant made sure to have the White House wine cellar stocked up before he left so the Hayes administration would have plenty, but he shouldn't have bothered. Lucy didn't even allow guests to drink at her White House, with one exception: a group of Russian visitors in 1877.
2. Queen Mother, Dolley Madison. Dolley was a much-beloved First Lady. So much so, that even after her tenure as First Lady was over and even after her husband died, it became customary for incoming Presidents to visit her to receive her blessing before taking office.
3. Mrs. Presidentress, Julia Tyler. Mrs. Tyler took the liberty of naming herself. When she and her husband left the White House, she even insisted on being called "Mrs. Ex-Presidentress."
4. Sahara Sarah, Sarah Polk. Before Lemonade Lucy, there was Sahara Sarah. A deeply religious woman, Mrs. Polk didn't allow business to be conducted on Sundays and also didn't allow drinking, dancing or card-playing at the White House.
5. Shadow of the White House, Jane Pierce. You can hardly blame Jane for retreating into herself - all three of her children died when they were young. The last of them, Bennie, was decapitated right in front of her eyes. After that, she spent most of her time at the White House holed up in her room, writing her sons letters begging for forgiveness.
6. Nervous Nellie, Helen Taft. By all accounts, Helen had just as much ambition to be in the White House as her husband, if not more. Once they were in office, Helen injected herself into all White House proceedings. This gave the impression that she thought her husband could not make decisions on his own, thus earning her the Nervous moniker.
7. The Duchess, Florence Harding. Before either one of the Fergies, there was Flo. How did she get her name? When she said, "Jump," everyone, including her husband, said, "How high?"
8. Lady Bird, Claudia Johnson. Mrs. Johnson was one of the only First Ladies known almost exclusively by her nickname. She received it at birth, when a nurse picked her up and declared her as pretty as a lady bird.
9. Plastic Pat, Pat Nixon. Plastic Pat became Plastic thanks to her husband's wrongdoings - she became famous for plastering a smile on her face during press conferences addressing Tricky Dick's scandals. Tricky Dick and Plastic Pat - what a pair.
10. Evita of Santa Barbara. Nancy may be a grandmotherly type now, but when "Ronnie" was first elected, she was a bit of a glamour-puss. She showed up at events wearing mink and other expensive items, which people thought was a bit tasteless, considering the economic crisis a lot of Americans were faced with at the time. The press gave her the unflattering nickname, but ultimately, it didn't stick.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]