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4 Governors Who Did Time

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When I met Rod Blagojevich at a Chicago Cubs game in 2007 (that's us), he was a wily incumbent who had just won easy reelection despite longstanding rumors of corruption. Today, facing a federal corruption trial, Blagojevich may soon join the fraternity of governors who have gone to prison.

With help from the chaps at the Political Graveyard, I identified at least 17 governors who achieved this unfortunate distinction. Here are four who make me gag.

1. "A truly heartfelt apology"

GeorgeRyan.jpg Ironically, Rod Blagojevich campaigned as a reformer, promising to clean up the corruption of his predecessor, Illinois Governor George Ryan, imprisoned for fraud and racketeering. In his most infamous scheme, Ryan oversaw the sale of driver's licenses to unqualified drivers—one of whom, in 1994, killed six children in a highway accident. Just this winter, fourteen years later, Ryan officially offered "a truly heartfelt apology" in hopes that it would earn him a Presidential pardon.

2. "The Rascal King

JamesCurley.jpgJames Michael Curley, elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1935, avoided prison for taking bribes when Bostonians collected $46,629 to pay his fine. A working-class Democrat and Irishman, Curley enjoyed great popular support, which allowed him, among other abuses, to appoint cronies to office, use state patrolmen as golf caddies, and throw a wedding banquet for his daughter that featured 2,000 pounds of lobster. These antics eventually caught up with the Rascal King, though. Convicted of misconduct in 1946, he spent five months in prison while still the sitting mayor of Boston.

3. "Vote for the Crook"

EdwinEdwards.jpg A resilient Cajun politician who served as the 48th, 50th, and 52nd governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards weathered two dozen investigations during his long career. During one campaign, Edwards' supporters even distributed bumper stickers reading "Vote for the Crook." Edwards liked to gamble. He often registered in Las Vegas under names like "T. Wong" and settled his tabs with suitcases full of cash. Convicted in 2000 of fraud and racketeering, Edwards turned 81 behind bars this year. Like George Ryan, he's hoping for a pardon.

4. "Overcoming adversity and surviving"

JohnRowland.jpg John G. Rowland was a popular three-term governor of Connecticut until 2004, when a federal investigation revealed his penchant for accepting gifts, like a hot tub, a canoe, free vacations, a $14,000 kitchen for his summer home, Cuban cigars, cases of champagne, and—coolest of all—a vintage Ford Mustang convertible. Having completed a ten-month prison stint, Rowland today advertises himself as a motivational speaker, warning audiences about the perils of power and sharing life lessons about "overcoming adversity and surviving."

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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]