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10 More People Banned From Britain

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Yesterday, UK Home Secretary Jaqcui Smith released the names of 16 people who are banned from entering Britain on the grounds that they foster or promote hate and extremism. Among those appearing on the "named and shamed" list is super right-wing American talk-show host Michael Savage, who once branded the Quran "a book of hate" and claimed that most children with autism are "a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out." Also on the list is Fred Phelps, Baptist pastor of the "God hates fags" vitriol who, along with his coterie of equally insane, equally hateful "congregants," make a sport of demonstrating at the funerals of US soldiers and blaming the gays for the war in Iraq.

But these 16 who have been named as part of this public shaming exercise are just the tip of the banned-from-Britain iceberg, and we decided to see who else we could find who's had the doors of Britannia slammed in their face.

1. Martha Stewart

It's frankly hard to believe that any country would want to ban Martha, domestic goddess of all that is clean and organized and Connecticut, but it's true: In June 2008, Martha Stewart was denied permission to enter the UK because of her 2004 conviction on charges of obstructing justice. Stewart spent five months in jail for the conviction "“ and knitted a lovely grey poncho for herself while she was there "“ then went right back to her media empire after serving her time. But Britain still wanted to no part of jailbird Martha and the denial of entry stands.

2. Barack Obama's half-brother

There's no end of presidential brothers who've screwed up in big ways and, as it turns out, President Obama's brother isn't bucking the trend. Samson "Abo" Obama, who runs a cell phone shop in Nairobi, Kenya, has been banned from Britain after being accused of sexually attacking a 13-year-old girl on his last visit to the UK. In fact, Samson Obama was on his way to the US for the President's inauguration ceremony and had intended to stop over in Britain to visit relatives, but was barred by immigration officials from entering the country. A White House official said President Obama had not spoken to Samson in 20 years. [See Also: Presidential Siblings and the Headaches They Caused.]

3. Snoop

snoop.jpgBack in 2006, Snoop Dogg, real name Calvin Broadus, was in big trouble with the UK law for allegedly starting a brawl at London's Heathrow Airport while en route to South Africa. While that situation sort of resolved itself at the time, when Snoop tried to get into the country the following year "“ this time to speak a youth event with fellow rapper/actor P. Diddy following a spate of high-profile gang violence in the UK "“ he found himself denied by the UK Home Office on the grounds that his presence in the country was "non-conducive to the public good."

However, the following year, an immigration judge overturned the Home Office ruling, claiming that video footage of the alleged Heathrow Airport incident showed Snoop being a generally law abiding citizen and that security and police were the ones doing the pushing. So, Snoop was allowed back in the UK and the day was saved.

Still, the UK wasn't the only country to say no to the DoggFather: Also in 2007, Snoop was denied entry to Australia after failing a "character test" and was therefore unable to co-host the MTV Australian Video Awards.

4. Busta Rhymes

In September 2008, rapper Busta Rhymes was denied entry to the UK because he's "so dangerous." (Get it? His big hit song, inspired by a 1970s PSA about the dangers of mistaking medicine for candy? OK, I'm done.)

Rhymes, whose real name is Trevor Smith and who was scheduled to headline a UK RockCorps concert at Royal Albert Hall, was denied entry into the country due to "unresolved convictions" in the US and was ordered to leave. Thing was, Busta had already been allowed into the country twice that same year and even had a work permit to perform at the charity concert. Busta's lawyers were able to get an injunction against the border official's decision, preventing Busta's removal from the country. Busta was kept under armed guard at the airport for 12 hours until a judge lifted the ban; he then went on to perform to a packed house of 5,000 RockCorps volunteers.

5. Pablo Neruda

The famous Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, Pablo Neruda was famously denied entry to the UK, due in large part to his Communist political ideals. Born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Neruda had already achieved fame for his works of poetic genius by the Cold War. He was also a confirmed member of the Communist Party, had been awarded the Stalin Peace Prize (in 1953), and held numerous diplomatic positions where he made no secret of his loyalty to the Party. And that didn't endear him in the slightest to UK border officials.

Another famous Pablo, Pablo Picasso, was nearly denied entry to Britain during the whole Cold War thing; he was eventually allowed in, but was monitored.

6. Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson, black American Renaissance man, was also denied entry to the UK in the early part of the Cold War because of his support for the Welsh miners; his outspoken campaigning for better working conditions for laborers, as well as for the rights of African Americans, had garnered him the label of communist. Of course, this was during the height of the histrionic McCarthy era and Robeson had had his passport revoked by the US.

7. Dimitri Shostakovich

Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, who rose to fame during the rise of the Soviets, was also banned from Britain during the Cold War. However, his relationship to the Communist Party was far less loving than Neruda or even Picasso and was likely the result of blackmail or political pressure.

8. Gert Wilders

Gert Wilders, a Dutch MP and leader of the Dutch Freeman Party, was banned from entering Britain this past February, the day before he was expected to show his 17-minute film linking Islam to terror and calling the Quran a "fascist book" at the House of Lords. The film, called Fitna "“ an Arabic word meaning, very approximately, "schism" "“ opens with the massively contentious cartoon image of the Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban, which, when it was first published in a Danish newspaper, was met with condemnation from virtually every corner of the globe.

Wilders called the UK's decision "cowardly," and the Dutch government pressed the UK to reverse the ban, but it stuck.

Britain has also denied entry to many other figures of controversy including, but certainly not limited to, leader of the Moonie cult, Sun Myung Moon; Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam; white supremacist Dennis Mahon; and shady Indian "guru," Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho.

9. A Brazilian Escort

Lots of people get turned away at the British border, and not just rappers, domestic doyennes and extremists. Earlier this year a Brazilian woman was denied entry after a search of her bags revealed a "collection of sex paraphernalia," including lingerie, sex toys, an address book containing the names and information of male contacts and escort agencies, and not much else.

10. A Random Tourist

The arbitrariness of the Border entry system is probably best highlighted with this story, from the Telegraph: A foreigner who wanted to spend a week in England's north country was denied entry after officials claimed it was "not credible" for anyone to want to spend a week in Gateshead.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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