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Secrets of Past Elections Revealed! (1996)

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After every presidential election since 1984, Newsweek has printed the best gossipy stories, revealing all the whining and backbiting of America's greatest spectacle. Linda Rodriguez has gone through Newsweek's archives to pick out some memorable moments from recent elections, and we'll be posting her stories throughout the week.

This election saw President Bill Clinton "“ on the heels of several big time scandals, including that whole Gennifer Flowers thing "“ soundly trounce former Senator Bob Dole, even after the senator resigned his position to demonstrate his commitment to the campaign. Texas businessman Ross Perot, who once described himself as "an albino monkey," ran again, this time with more sideshow antics than when he tried in 1992. In the end, Clinton became a second-termer "“ and went on to some even bigger scandals!

Unpredictable, that's Bob Dole

From the outset of his campaign, Bob Dole staffers routinely complained that they didn't know what Dole was going to say at a given speech until he said it, even after he had been carefully groomed, rehearsed, and coached. Dole seemed to take a petulant delight in off-the-cuff remarks "“ like accusing President Clinton of cheating at golf "“ or even flubbing his lines. Dole also liked to prepare for speeches while tanning on hotel roofs and eating chocolate ice cream.

The age factor

One of the biggest perceived differences between Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton was their respective ages. Clinton represented a younger generation, someone who could appeal to the recently named "soccer moms," while Bob Dole was from an era before America had even heard of soccer. When the press asked the two candidates what had been their respective favorite TV shows growing up, Clinton named Bonanza. Dole said TV hadn't been invented yet.

Down and on his way out

Bob Dole's campaign was broke "“ so broke that by the spring of 1996, the campaign was holding rallies in outdoor spaces in order to avoid renting a hall. That wasn't the worst of his troubles "“ after he resigned the senate in a bid to focus on his floundering campaign and to divorce himself from his Washington insider image, reporters started calling his campaign plane, "Citizen's Ship," the "Sinking Ship." Incidentally, the press plane had its own great name "“ the "Bullship."

Slogans are always better when they rhyme

One bumper sticker slogan batted around the Dole camp was luckily shot down: "Our goal, your soul, Bob Dole." Catchy.

Oops

By the time election night rolled around, Bob Dole had largely accepted defeat. Still, he wanted to make sure that California's votes were in and counted before he officially conceded the election. Even that was bungled, however, after a campaign staffer accidentally released Dole's concession statement, which was promptly picked up by all the major networks and reported. The campaign issued a retraction, though it might not have mattered at that point.

The dance of winners!

There was much celebrating in the Clinton camp the night before the election, after Clinton ended his final campaign speech of his elected career. Flying Air Force One back to Little Rock, Clinton entertained the troops by dancing the Macarena.

Previously: 1988, 1984, 1992

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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