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10 More Politicians Who Changed Parties

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When longtime Republican senator Arlen Spector announced earlier this week that he was ditching the GOP to become a Democrat, the news set Washington atwitter. Not only did the Republicans lose one of their most visible faces in the Senate, but the Democrats also inched closer to gaining the all-important 60-seat majority. Party changes like this are obviously uncommon, but some surprising people have changed teams at some point in their careers. Here's a look at some well-known politicians who changed their minds:

1. Ronald Reagan

Reagan may be a conservative icon now, but he originally leaned to the left. Reagan's father was liberal, and as a boy, the future president was a great admirer of FDR. When Reagan became president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947, though, he started to migrate to the right and even testified during the McCarthy hearings as a friendly witness. At the start of the 1950 senatorial race in California, he was still enough of a Democrat to endorse the party's candidate, Helen Douglas. Later in the campaign, though, he changed his mind and threw his support behind the GOP candidate, a young up-and-comer named Richard Nixon. The rest was history.

2. Arlen Spector

Wait, everyone knows Spector changed parties"¦that only happened a few days ago! Not so fast. This week's migration was actually the second time in his career Specter switched parties.

He actually started out as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP in 1965 when he ran for district attorney in Philadelphia. According to Specter, the Democratic machine in Philly was so corrupt at the time that he didn't feel like he could be an effective DA within its confines.

3. Hillary Clinton

The Clintons may arguably be the first family of the Democrats, but former presidential hopeful and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn't always so liberal. Early in her life, she was a Republican, and not just a passive one, either. She campaigned for uber-conservative GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and even chaired her local Young Republicans. However, after she left home to attend college at Wellesley, her views gradually shifted to the left, and she eventually joined Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign.

4. Strom Thurmond

The late senator from South Carolina fashioned a long career out of switching parties. He started out as a Democrat, but at the 1948 Democratic National Convention Thurmond became enraged over the party's attempt to add civil rights elements to its platform. He left the party as part of a group that assembled as the States' Rights Democratic Party, or the Dixiecrats; Thurmond ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat and picked up 39 electoral votes. In 1964, Thurmond, who was by then a senator, switched to the Republican side of the aisle to support GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.

5. Wendell Wilkie

The Republican challenger who FDR drubbed in the 1940 presidential election actually got his start as a Democrat. During the 1930s, though, he decided that he didn't like the way New Deal policies restricted business activities and switched his allegiances. Since Wilkie had effectively snubbed FDR by turning his back on the Democratic Party, the Republican base loved him enough to give him the presidential nomination in 1940.

6. Jesse Helms

Helms, who spent 30 years in the Senate, started out as a Democrat, but in 1970 he grew disgusted over the Civil Rights Act and other progressive policies the party had taken on. Helms jumped to the Republican Party in time to be elected to the Senate in the 1972 election as a GOP candidate.

7. Condoleezza Rice

The former Secretary of State is another conservative hero, but she was actually a Democrat until 1982. Rice said she became a Republican after growing disenchanted with Democratic foreign policies and being reminded by her father that the Democratic Party would not allow him to register to vote during Alabama's Jim Crow days.

8. Charles Barkley

The Round Mound of Rebound has made no secret of his desire to someday run for governor in Alabama. In 2006, Barkley broke up with the GOP to become an independent because he was fed up with the party's politics. Or, as Barkley put it, "I was a Republican until they lost their minds." Quite a shift for a man who once answered his Democrat grandmother's admonition that the Republicans were only for rich people by quipping, "I'm rich."

9. Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Campbell, a Native American legislator from Colorado, served as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1993, at which point he jumped to the Senate. In 1995, he dropped the Dems to become a Republican in response to Bill Clinton's financial policies and what he saw as unfair treatment of the West by environmental policies. The change didn't hurt his popularity, though; Campbell spent another 10 years in the Senate as a Republican.

10. Michael Bloomberg

New York's financial guru mayor was a lifelong Democrat until 2001, when he jumped to the GOP to run for mayor. Bloomberg stuck with the party until 2007, when he suddenly announced that he was severing ties with the Republican Party and becoming an independent. In announcing the move, Bloomberg claimed that by becoming an independent he could better help overcome partisan squabbles that had plagued the city.

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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]