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The Quick 10: 10 Campaign Slogans of the Past

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At this point, we're all pretty overloaded on "Yes We Can," "Change You Can Believe In," "Straight Talk," and "Country First." But do you remember Herbert Hoover's slogan? How about FDR? Let's take a break from Straight Talk and Change and revisit some slogans that helped the candidate move into the White House.

1. "A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage." That was Herbert Hoover's promise, which he obviously wasn't able to deliver. There was also the lesser known, "Hoover and Happiness or Smith and Soup Houses."

2. "A Return to Normalcy" maybe doesn't sound like the most thrilling campaign slogan, but when you consider that it was Warren G. Harding's commitment to people just coming out of WWI, it probably sounded pretty good. Harding was also the first candidate to rely on the power of Hollywood - his backers included Al Jolson, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. For those not into the old Hollywood scene, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks would be the equivalent of having Brad and Angelina back your campaign today.

3. "Are You Better Off Today Than You Were Four Years Ago?" A compelling question by Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter's approval ratings were terrible, so this question really hit where it hurt.

eleanor4. "Better a Third-Termer Than a Third-Rater." This, of course, belonged to FDR. As did this one: "Two good terms deserve another." FDR'S 1940 campaign against Willkie was pretty heated, actually, and the two of them were trotting out humorous barbs on a nearly weekly basis.


5. "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." I remember the slogan (although it was a song first), but I can never remember who actually used it. If you're like me, here you go: It was William Henry Harrison's. When he led an army of more than 1,000 men into battle against the Shawnee and came out the victor, he soon became known as "Old Tip," because the battle had taken place next to the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. Reminding voters of his supposed war prowess must have worked, because Harrison was elected in 1840.

sunflower6. "Sunflowers Die in November." It doesn't have much to do with issues, but it's clever: FDR used this slogan in '36 against his opponent, Kansas governor Alf Landon. The Kansas state flower? The sunflower, of course.


7. "It is not best to swap horses while crossing the river." Heard that one before? Like, about four years ago? Well, it was "borrowed" from one of the best - Abraham Lincoln. He used it while campaigning for his second term in 1864.


8. "Vote as You Shot!" Ulysses S. Grant supporters made no bones about it - if you were on the Union side in the war, you'd better be voting for him.

9. "Grandfather's Hat Fits Ben." Who else could this be but Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of Old Tip himself? And maybe the hat did fit, but only for four years - after one term, Ben was voted out of office in favor of the man who had also preceded him - Grover Cleveland.

10. "Would You Buy a Used Car From This Man?" Ha. It may not have been JFK's main slogan (he also used "A Time for Greatness" and "We Can Do Better"), but it's definitely the funniest. His camp used a picture of Nixon glowering and looking particularly smarmy along with that slogan. Brilliant.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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