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The Quick 10: 10 Leaders Under the Influence

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If we heard reports of George W. Bush or Barack Obama waking up and having a martini before going about their daily routines, there would definitely be an uproar. But not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for world leaders to drink throughout the day, and it wasn't that long ago that opium was considered a cure-all medicine. Now that we're more fully aware of how those things can mess with your brain, it seems astonishing that these people were running the world while under the influence of hallucinogens or alcohol. This post was inspired by a great podcast, by the way - Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. If you're interested in stuff like this, be sure to check it out.

1. Despite the image of youth and vitality he portrayed, JFK actually had a lot of health problems, including asthma, Addison's disease, back problems and severe allergies. To treat all of his problems, he was using any number of painkillers and opiate-based medicine. A doctor nicknamed "Dr. Feelgood" gave him shots that included vitamins, steroids, and amphetamines. He was taking so many shots in such large doses that legitimate doctors told him he needed to back off of the stuff. During both the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was on steroids, painkillers, anti-spasmodics, antibiotics, antihistamines and an anti-psychotic drug. This cocktail of drugs often left him feeling groggy or unfocused, so he would take anti-anxiety medicine to try to counter all of that.

2. Winston Churchill liked to drink "“ that was no secret. He woke up drinking, in fact, and was known to keep a drink within reach throughout the entire day. However, he also popped pills like they were candy. He named his pills majors, minors, reds, greens, and "Lord Morans," after his physician who prescribed them. He also took stimulants for the same reason JFK later did: to appear youthful and vigorous.

eden3. Churchill's successor, Anthony Eden, liked his fair share of pills as well. He had chronic gall bladder problems, which is why he carried a box of medicine with him at all times, including a healthy supply of morphine. He also got hooked on Benzedrine and has even acknowledged that fact himself.
4. Stalin is another one who was probably an alcoholic.

When the Germans attacked the Russians in 1941, Stalin pretty much disappeared off the face of the map for a week. One theory is that he was pretty much out on a bender that entire week. And a firsthand account says that he was able to drink a "khanty" "“ a buffalo horn used as a glass that could easily hold three or four bottles of wine "“ with no problem whatsoever.

5. Hitler reportedly took doctor-administrated amphetamine shots for the last several years of his life. Then he took barbiturates to come down. His doctor, Theodore Morell, meticulously recorded each of 73 medications he gave to Hitler, including sedatives, hormones, laxatives, narcotics, methamphetamine and cortisone.

alex6. Some historians speculate that Alexander the Great's decision to burn Persepolis to the ground was alcohol-fueled. Alexander loved to drink, despite being scornful of his father's drinking problem. The story is that Alexander, his men and some courtesans were celebrating their victories with copious amounts of alcohol when one of the courtesans gave a drunken speech about how Persepolis should be burned to the ground "“ the Persians burned Athens when they conquered it, so it would be only fair, she said. In their drunken revelry, everyone thought this sounded like a great idea (I think most of us have thought an idea was fabulous when under the influence, only to sober up and realize how stupid it was) and proceeded to do just that. Some historians think this was calculated, but the argument against it includes the fact that when Alexander's troops saw the city burning (they were camped out beyond city limits), they thought it was accidental and came running to help. If it was premeditated, Alexander probably would have informed his troops that it was about to happen.

7. Herman Göring, Hitler's designated successor, was a morphine addict. In fact, in the "˜20s, he was placed in a mental asylum because he was such a violent drug addict. But by the time he was a big cheese with the Nazis, he would shoot himself up before staff meetings and then fall asleep mid-meeting. By the end of the war, most of the people around him thought he was pretty incompetent.

8. It's speculated that Napoleon's performance at Waterloo was so awful because he was heavily under the influence. Reports say that on the day of the battle, he was sluggish, indecisive and slow, probably due to the fact that he was in pain the night before and took a dose of opium. This was a time when opium was commonly used as a medicine for a wide variety of ailments, so it really wouldn't have been thought of twice.

9. If the name James Wilkinson doesn't ring a bell, it's probably because history hasn't been kind to him. He led an invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, but he was so soused on alcohol and hopped up on opium that his directions were terrible, misleading and confusing. An army of 180 Canadians managed to fend off Wilkinson's force of more than 4,000.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have been an alcoholic, but he certainly had alcohol-related bouts of rage. One Air Force One Steward recalls that Johnson threw a drink on the floor after declaring it too weak: his preference was three-quarters of a glass of scotch and one-quarter soda water. George Reedy, Johnson's press secretary, said he would drink scotch after scotch for days on end, and then abruptly just stop for months.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]