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6 Other Phelps Worth Knowing

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Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, Michael Phelps, that's all everyone is talking about these days. And, okay, with good reason. But let's not forget about the other notable Phelps—especially the following 6, who are some of my Phavorite Phelps.

1 and 2: Identical twins James Andrew Eric Phelps and Oliver Martyn John Phelps (b. 1986)

You know them from: All those great Harry Potter films. Yes, they are Fred and George Weasly.

Phunny Phelps Phactoid: According to IMDB, the twins switched places on the set once, only to be caught and forced to redo all the scenes over again.

Favorite HP books: James: Prisoner of Azkaban Oliver: Goblet of Fire

The long and short of it: While not as tall as Michael Phelps (6'4"), the Phelps twins stand an impressive 6'3" each.

3. Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (b. 1867 d. 1944)

300px-MrMrsINPhelpsStokes1897.JPGYou know him from: This great John Singer Sargent painting of him and his wife, which Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes commissioned.

stpauls.jpgYou also know him as: the architect of St. Paul's Chapel up at Columbia University.

The other Isaac Newton: No, this Isaac Newton did not pen Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, but he is the author of the gigantic, 6-volume work: The Iconography of Manhattan Island, one of the best, most comprehensive illustrated histories of Manhattan.

4. Charles Phelps Taft II (b. 1897 d. 1983)

240px-NG1917_Charles_Phelps_Taft_II.pngYou know him as: President William Howard Taft's son

You also know him as: "Mr. Cincinnati"—a nickname he received when he was mayor of Cincinnati (supposedly one of the city's best ever).

This Phelps was wed to: Eleanor Kellogg Chase"¦ thrown in the surname Taft, and that's just an embarrassment of riches.

5. Jim Phelps (fictional character)

graves.jpgYou know him from: Mission Impossible, the original director of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF)

On TV, he was played by: Peter Graves

In the first MI film, he was played by: Jon Voight

Curious Phelps Phactoid: In the original TV series, Phelps was the man. In the first movie, Ethan Hunt was the man, and Phelps the IMF traitor. As one reviewer once wrote: "That's like killing off Mr. Brady 10 minutes into The Brady Bunch Movie."

6. William Wines Phelps (b. 1792 d. 1872)

wwphelps.gifYou know him as: the author of numerous Latter Day Saint hymns like "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning."

He's also well known for: helping to print the first Latter Day Saint hymnal as well as an early edition of the church's Doctrine and Covenants.

Curious Phelps Phactoids: W.W. was excommunicated by the church at least three times during the course of his life, two less than the number of wives he had.

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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]