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The Quick 10: Thanks for the Memories

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It was this day six years ago that the world lost one of its greatest entertainers "“ Bob Hope. He had a good run, though "“ he was 100 years old when he died. In his honor, here are a few interesting facts about Old Ski Nose.

youngbob1. His first job in show business was for a dancer in Fatty Arbuckle's vaudeville show in 1924. He did the vaudeville thing for quite some time and was on a double bill with Violet and Daisy Hilton, conjoined twins who were rather famous in 1926. He and his partner would dance with them, back to back, and then get to do their own act afterward. One biography suggests he was quite repulsed by them and would make crude jokes about their anatomy.
2. He once won a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest. Kind of hard to imagine, but I bet once you put the clothes, the hat and the mustache on, anyone could look like Charlie Chaplin if they did the walk well enough.
3. Bob was married before Dolores. Groucho Marx's son, Arthur, wrote a biography of Hope alleging that he had married his vaudeville partner, Grace Louise Troxell, in 1933. Hope denied it for years, for when a marriage certificate eventually surfaced, he admitted that he applied for the marriage certificate but never married her. Marx even went to far as to say that Troxell's daughter received a monthly support check from Hope for years, suggesting, of course, that he had a child with her that he wanted to remain secret. True or not? It remains a mystery to this day, so your guess is as good as mine.

4. He was born Leslie Towne Hope. He suffered a lot of abuse for his name as a kid - roll call in school would go something like this: "Hope, Leslie?" which mean kids quickly shortened to "Hopeless." When he decided to become an entertainer he figured "Lester" would at least let people know that he was male.

5. Before he decided to be an entertainer, he considered being a professional boxer and briefly pursued the career. His friend had decided to box and adopted the name "Packy West" after the legendary boxer Packey McFarland. Having a bit of a competitive spirit, Hope decided to try his hand at boxing as well. When asked what his boxing name would be, he spit out, "Packy East."

6. Al Capone's guys once threatened Hope. During his earlier vaudeville days, he had a joke in his act that went something like,

"My brother really slapped a gangster once."
"Really?" his straightwoman would respond, "That's so brave! I'd like to shake his hand."
"Oh," Hope said, "We're not going to dig him up for that."

When he played the Chicago Palace, though, he switched the neutral "gangster" to "Al Capone" to get bigger laughs. After a couple of nights, he got a call from an anonymous man who said, "You the comedian doing the Al Capone joke? Do yourself a favor. Take the joke out of your act. We'll be around to show appreciation."

He dropped the joke.

bobhope7. When President Truman was re-elected in the tight race against Dewey in 1948, Hope sent him a telegram that simply said "Unpack." Truman loved it so much he kept it visible under the glass top of his desk in the Oval Office.
8. One of his old golfing buddies was Prescott Bush, George Bush's father and George W. Bush's grandfather. Others included Spiro Agnew, Bing Crosby and Gerald Ford. In keeping with his accident-prone persona, Ford was so bad that Hope said, "It's easy to spot Jerry Ford on the golf course. He has the only golf cart with a red cross on top."
9. He once dotted the "I" when the Ohio State University marching band did their legendary routine of spelling out "Ohio" in cursive on the football field. It's a huge honor and is rarely awarded to a non-band member.

10. He has more than 1500 awards to his name and is in the Guinness Book of World Records with the "Most Honored Entertainer" record. Some of those honors include the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Hasty Pudding Man of the Year (the first one ever), the Silver Buffalo Award (the highest award the Boy Scouts of America can give to an adult), an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire, and he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1998. He also has a naval vessel and an Air Force plane named after him.

An extra bonus fact for you: Bob Hope is the only person in the history of The Tonight Show to have a standing invitation to pop on and say hello any time he wanted to. Conan O'Brien recently made the joke that he's going to have one of those open invitations as well "“ and Paris Hilton promptly came out and dropped a couple of jokes. I hope Conan was kidding. Anyway, here's one of those famous moments "“ Bob dropped in to surprise guest host Don Rickles. And it's not just Bob "“ Bing Crosby pops out as well, and finally, John Wayne emerges from behind the curtain. Don is clearly

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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]