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The Quick 9: What Nine Members of the Manson Family Are Doing Today

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Big news yesterday: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Manson Family member and would-be assassin of Gerald Ford, has been paroled from prison after nearly 35 years of incarceration. Despite her fanatic membership in the infamous Manson Family, prosecutors were unable to pin anything on Squeaky until her attempt on the President's life, which is what eventually landed her in prison with a life sentence. Considering that during that time, she attacked a fellow inmate with the claw end of a hammer and escaped once in 1987 to try to meet up with Manson. I don't know what she's been up to in the 20 years since then, but I do know that if she moved in next door to me, I'd probably start house-hunting pretty quickly. In case you've been wondering if any of the other Family members are looking for real estate in your area, here are where 10 of them are today.

atkins1. Susan Atkins was incarcerated on October 1, 1969, for participating in eight killings during that summer, including the horrible Tate/LaBianca murders. No other female currently in the California penal system has been in jail longer than she, something that her family is extremely upset about. Atkins became a born-again Christian in 1974 and wrote a book about her life with Manson. In 2008, it was reported that she had terminal brain cancer and had less than six months to live, so she requested compassionate release from jail to live out the rest of her life (possibly in Laguna Beach, which is where she told reporters in 2002 that she wanted to settle down upon release). The request was unanimously denied. Since then, her condition has apparently worsened and she is said to be 85% paralyzed and has almost no speech capability. She's scheduled for a parole hearing on September 2.

2. Tex Watson has also been in prison for more than 30 years. He was convicted and sentenced to death on October 21, 1971, but managed to escape death because a 1972 court case made all death sentences issued before that year invalid. He also became a born-again Christian, got married in 1979 , and had four kids with his wife through conjugal visits. He says he has been "forgiven by God," but he has definitely not been forgiven by the court: Watson has been denied parole 13 times. His next parole hearing is in December 2011.

3. Bobby Beausoleil, who murdered Gary Hinman on July 27, 1969, is also still in prison. Like Watson, he was sentenced to death but benefited from the 1972 law about the death penalty. However, he seems to be enjoying a career while behind bars: in the late "˜80s, he composed and recorded the soundtrack to the movie Lucifer Rising, and in 2005, some of his artwork was displayed in the Clair Obscur Gallery. He was denied parole in 2008 and isn't scheduled for another hearing until 2013.

brunner4. Mary Brunner, who had a baby named Valentine with Manson, was definitely at the Hinman murder, although accounts of her level of participation have varied over the years. She wasn't convicted for it, though "“ she actually went to prison because of the 1971 Hawthorn Shootout. She and several other members of the Family took people hostage in a Hawthorn, California, Western surplus store. The grand plan was to hijack a Boeing 747 and kill a passenger every hour until Manson and all of the other incarcerated Family members were released. When police showed up, a huge shootout took place. Police gained the upper hand when Brunner and two others were injured. Brunner served a little over six years in jail for her role in the shootout, and when she was released in 1977, she took up an assumed name, got custody of her son with Manson, and moved somewhere to the Midwest (she could be my neighbor).

5. Patricia Krenwinkel was an active participant in the Tate/LaBianca murders. Like the others, she received a death sentence that was later changed to life in prison. She reportedly has a perfect prison record and has received a Bachelor's degree in Human Services. She also writes poetry and music, gives dance lessons, participates in a service dog-training program, and plays on the prison volleyball team. Sounds kind of like a yearbook list of your high school activities, doesn't it? Despite being a model prisoner, Krenwinkel has been denied parole 11 times.

6. Leslie Van Houten lost any sympathy the jurors may have had for her during her trial when she giggled through the descriptions of the deaths of the LaBiancas and Sharon Tate, which she had been a part of. In the late "˜70s, she received a retrial, claiming that her counsel hadn't accurately represented her the first time. She won it, but her lawyer disappeared in the middle of the trial. He was later found dead. She had a second trial, and a third, and was eventually sentenced to life in prison again. She married a man in 1981, and when it was discovered that he owned a uniform used by prison employees and apparently had plans to help Van Houten break out, she divorced him and said she had no knowledge of the matter. She has earned two college degrees and has had no notable incidents in prison, but hasn't yet received parole. She was most recently denied in 2007 (her 18th try) but can apply again this year. She and Patricia Krenwinkel are in the same prison.

KASABIAN7. Linda Kasabian testified against all of the other members of the Manson Family and is largely the reason they were all convicted. She never participated in the killings and served more as a lookout, and in fact tried to prevent a couple of murders. Because of her willingness to testify, Kasabian didn't serve any time. She moved back to New Hampshire to raise her kids, refusing to talk to the media unless she had to take the stand during various retrials. She later moved to Washington and has avoided publicity, except for a 1988 interview with A Current Affair. She recently told her story for a show that is scheduled to air on The History Channel this year, but does so somewhat anonymously "“ she didn't want her image used because she still isn't comfortable being recognized.

8. Sandra Good didn't participate in any murders (that she was convicted of, anyway), but she was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1976 for "conspiracy to send threatening letters through the mail." She had helped write and send death threats to nearly 200 executives of companies that Good decided were killing the earth. She was paroled in 1985 and still devoutly followed Manson. Upon her parole, she moved to Vermont and lived under the name of Sandra Collins. She later moved to California and lived very close to Corcoran State Prison, where Manson was (and is) being held. She started a Manson website in 1996. It has been down since 2001 and not much else has been heard from Sandra Good.

So there you have it. Five in jail and four roaming free (including Squeaky). What do you think about Squeaky Fromme's release?

Also, I'm out tomorrow and Monday and leave you in the capable hands of our guest blogger! I'll be Tweeting live (is there any other way to Tweet?) from Lollapalooza if you're interested in reading about various bands, Chicago sights and my first experience with a press pass. And I'll be back Tuesday full of news from the Windy City. See you then!

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]