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The Quick 10: Seven Score and Six Years Ago...

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Many years (146, to be exact) ago today, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most powerful and meaningful speeches of all time. I bet a lot of us can still recite it (how many of you had to memorize it for school?), but here are a few more facts.

1. Talk about using words wisely. This deeply poignant speech was only 10 sentences long (and really only one run-on) and took a little over two minutes to deliver.

2. There are five existing copies of the Gettysburg Address, all thought to be genuine, although only one has been signed by Lincoln himself. One of the copies is privately owned. The others can be found in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and the Library of Congress, which has two of the copies.

3. This is the only known photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg that day. It was taken about three hours before he gave the speech.

Lincoln

4. If things had gone as planned, Lincoln would have delivered his speech on October 23 instead of November 19. The event was the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, a place to honor the more than 7,500 soldiers who had died on the field just months earlier. David Wills, the man behind the cemetery, invited a well-known orator to come and speak at the event. The problem? He gave this speaker just 40 days notice, which was just not enough time to prepare a speech. To accommodate him, the dedication was postponed until November 19. Lincoln didn't receive his notice to appear until November 2, giving him just 17 days notice, making him seem as though he were an afterthought.

everett5. That other orator who needed more than a month to prepare was poor Edward Everett. Lincoln was just supposed to be a footnote to the occasion, remember, and Everett was the main attraction. "Everett had a lot of titles to his name "“ Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, Governor of Massachusetts and unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the U.S., to name a few. To prepare for his part, Everett wrote a two-hour speech that he referred to as "The Gettysburg Oration." I guess you know which one is remembered today. I would guess that the majority of people don't even know the name "Edward Everett."
6. Everett, for his part, didn't hold Lincoln's superior speech against him. He sent a letter the next day, telling Abe that "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." Lincoln replied that he was just glad that the whole thing wasn't a "total failure."

7. Not everyone held Everett's high opinion of the Address. This was part of my Q10 last week, but I think it bears repeating "“ the Chicago Times said, ""The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States." The New York Times loved it, though, referring to the speech as "a perfect gem."

gettysburgaddress8. Although the urban legend persists, Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope on the way to Gettysburg. He wrote drafts "“ on Executive Mansion stationery, no less "“ while still in Washington and put the finishing touches on it while staying at David Wills' house the night before the address.
9. "Under God" or not? That's been a source of controversy over the years. Some of the handwritten drafts have "Under God" added in and some don't - including the one that Lincoln was thought to have read from. At least three reporters took down the entire speech and telegraphed it just after it happened, and each of those copies contains the phrase. Most historians take this to mean that it was included in the speech, but still, the debate rages on. While you might infer that the copy we think Lincoln read from isn't actually the copy he read from, some theories suggest that Lincoln simply added the "Under God" as he was speaking and wrote later copies to reflect his adjustment.

10. An estimated 15,000 people showed up to hear Lincoln (and Everett, I suppose) speak that day, including governors from six of the 24 states.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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