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How Did the Donkey & Elephant Become Political Mascots?

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It all started with an insult. During Andrew Jackson's 1828 presidential campaign, his political opponents labeled him a "jackass." Stubborn as he was, Jackson co-opted the insult and began putting a donkey on his election posters. For the rest of his career and even into his retirement, newspapers and cartoonists continued to represent Jackson either as a stubborn ass or struggling to control one.

jackass-lionsAlmost 40 years later, the donkey was used to represent not just Jackson, but a larger group of Democrats. In 1870, Thomas Nast, the German-born political cartoonist who gave us the versions of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam we know today, drew a cartoon for Harper's Weekly titled "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion." The donkey was a stand-in for "Copperhead Democrats" (the Northern Democrats that opposed the Civil War), and the lion represented Edwin M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's recently deceased Secretary of War. Nast thought of the Copperheads as anti-Union and believed the Democratic press's treatment of Stanton was disrespectful.


In 1874, the New York Herald loudly opposed the possibility of Ulysses S. Grant running for a third presidential term and cried Caesarism. Nast, a life-long Republican who'd become frustrated with his party, thought Republicans might fall for the scare tactic. He drew another cartoon for Harper's, again using a donkey to represent Democrats and adding an animal to symbolize Republicans.

third-term-panic

The cartoon, titled "The Third Term Panic," showed a donkey (representing the Herald and the Democratic press) wearing a lion's skin (labeled "Caesarism") in order to frighten a group of animals. Among those animals are an elephant (labeled "Republican Vote" and awkwardly fleeing towards a pit labeled "Inflation" and "Chaos") and a fox (labeled "Democrats" and backing away from the pit that the elephant is about to fall into).

The Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives that November, and Nast bemoaned the defeat in another cartoon. It showed an elephant caught in a trap set by a donkey, and the lumbering confused behemoth of the Republican Party undone by the Herald's scare tactics.

sluggish-elephantNast continued to use the elephant and the donkey in his cartoons, eventually having them represent the whole of his party and the opposition. In March of 1877, after Republican Rutherford B. Hayes' controversial victory, a Nast cartoon showed an injured elephant ("Republican Party") kneeling at a tombstone labeled "Democratic Party." An 1879 cartoon (pictured) showed a politician grabbing a donkey labeled "Democratic Party" by the tail to keep it from falling into a pit of "financial chaos." The Republican elephant ("the sluggish animal") is lying on and blocking the road to an election victory.


By 1880, other cartoonists had picked up the symbols and spread them across the country. Over a century later, their continued use in cartoons, party literature, campaign buttons and all sorts of political merchandise and propaganda has cemented the association between the parties and their animals. The Republicans have even adopted the elephant as their official symbol (the Democrats have yet to do the same for the poor donkey).

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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