Original image

The Quick 10: 10 Famous People and Their Drug Habits

Original image

New book recommendation! Assuming you've already pre-ordered the mental_floss History of the World, that is. It's called Genius and Heroin by Michael Largo, the same guy who wrote Final Exits. Genius is full of stories about famous people and their famous vices - including, but not limited to, heroin.

freud1. Sigmund Freud - cocaine. At first, his interest was purely medical. He wrote papers about the feelings associated with the substance, saying that it provided exhilaration and euphoria just minutes after partaking. Freud's buddy, Ernest von Fleischl, had a pretty bad morphine habit, so to help him kick it, Freud prescribed cocaine as a "safe" alternative. Fleischl became addicted, of course, and was soon spending more than $10,000 per month on the drug. Proving himself to be a good scholar but perhaps not a great friend, Freud recorded his friend's increasingly negative side effects. In 1891, von Fleischl became the first person in history (that we know of) to die of a speedball when he mixed heroin and cocaine. But back to Freud. Though he considered himself a casual user, a three-year period in the mid-1880s produced such a huge body of work on the topic that it's easy to assume he was using pretty regularly.

2. Andy Warhol - Obetrol. Obetrol marketed today as Adderall, a fairly common drug used to treat ADHD. But Andy popped them in true Valley-of-the-Dolls-style. The difference between Adderall and Obetrol seems to be time options - Adderall is made and sold in immediate-release tablets and time-release tablets, but Obetrol comes only in an immediate release option.

3. Miles Davis - Heroin. Miles was hooked on heroin for about four years, but managed to kick the habit because he was inspired by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson's dedication.

4. Balzac - Caffeine.

There are many people (myself included) who get headaches without their morning cup of java (or five). But that's absolute child's play compared to Balzac. He commonly write for 48 hours nonstop, aided by cup after cup of coffee. He drank so much caffeine that it enlarged his left heart ventricle, which possibility contributed to his death. These days, that kind of addiction is called caffeinism. It can result in lots of not-fun effects, including nervousness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, ulcers, esophagitis, muscle twitching, and respiratory alkalosis. 

carroll5. Lewis Carroll - Opium. Well, at the time it was called Laudanum, and lots of people took it for minor ailments such as headaches. It's no surprise that lots of people got addicted to it, including Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson). He suffered terribly from migraines, and some people thought he took it because it relaxed him and helped ease his stutter. Whatever the reason, he was hooked. Carroll also liked to partake in magic mushrooms and weed, too, but you already knew that. Come on, look at Alice in Wonderland.

6. Edith Piaf - everything. Poor Edith Piaf. In 1951, she was in a car accident that left her with a broken arm and two broken ribs. She had two more car crashes afterward, and all of the resulting medication may have done more harm than good: she got hooked on morphine and various pills, in addition to alcohol. She refused to stop performing, though, and pushed herself to carry on with the show no matter what. She even spit up blood while singing at the Waldorf Astoria.

7. Did you guys know Faulkner was a drunk? And so was Fitzgerald? And Hemingway? And Dylan Thomas? And Poe? And Sinclair Lewis? Yeah, of course you did. Seems like alcohol was the drug of choice for a lots of writers. Not just men, either - Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay were also known for their love of the drink.

callas8. Maria Callas - Quaaludes. At the height of her career, Callas abruptly lost an extreme amount of weight. It's rumored that she got hooked on Quaaludes because they helped keep the pounds off, but she always said her weight loss was due to a sensible diet.

9. Truman Capote - Lots of drugs. Capote had a pretty serious alcohol habit during one point in his life, but managed to kick it by taking up drugs. When he died of liver disease, he had barbiturates, Valium, anti-seizure medication, and painkillers in his system.

10. Humphry Davy - Nitrous Oxide. Davy was an important chemist of the 1800s, which explains how he had access to the nitrous. He once inhaled five pints of the gas, promptly fell to the floor and remained blacked out for nearly three hours. He kept trying it, though - you know, for scientific purposes. Davy decided nitrous was better than alcohol because there was no hangover. It's evident from his papers when the addiction truly began - his writing becomes filled with poetic descriptions of the stuff, such as when he suggested that nitrous must be the air in heaven.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

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]