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7 Stories The National Enquirer Actually Got Right

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Some in the media have argued that The National Enquirer deserves Pulitzer Prize consideration for its investigative work into politician John Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter. Although it's easy to dismiss The Enquirer as a tabloid collection of fabricated stories that offer little more than a distraction in the grocery store line, the weekly rag has actually broken some pretty big stories. Sure, headlines like "Stars with Cellulite!" and "Kirstie Alley: Only 4 Years to Live!" might not make anyone forget Woodward and Bernstein, but take a look at these Enquirer scoops:

1. Finding Ennis Cosby's Killer

When Bill Cosby's son Ennis was senselessly murdered on the shoulder of a Los Angeles freeway in 1997, The Enquirer took an odd step to help solve the case: it offered a $100,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Cosby's killer. Papers usually just announce rewards that other groups are offering, and to some this bounty seemed a lot like The Enquirer's practice of paying its sources—a major taboo in mainstream journalism.

The reward worked, though. Witness Chris So learned of the huge reward and led police to the revolver used in the slaying by killer Mikhail Markhasev. The Enquirer also obtained copies of jailhouse letters that pointed to Markhasev's guilt. Thanks in part to this evidence, Markhasev received a sentence of life without parole, plus 10 years.

2. Walking in O.J. Simpson's Shoes




If you remember the O.J. Simpson murder trial, you surely can recall the infamous bloody footprint that was found at the crime scene. The print came from a Bruno Magli shoe, and the football star adamantly denied owning such a pair of kicks.


The Enquirer did some digging, though, and unearthed a photo of the Juice walking on the field at a 1993 Buffalo Bills game wearing a pair of Bruno Maglis. The paper then turned up a second photo of O.J. wearing the shoes. By the time his civil trial rolled around in 1996, Simpson was forced to admit, "I know I've had similar shoes."

3. Jesse Jackson's Family Tree Grows

In 2001, The Enquirer broke a story about Jesse Jackson fathering an illegitimate daughter with staffer Karin Stanford in 1999. Once The Enquirer scheduled its story on Jackson's dalliances, mainstream media outlets around the country started picking up on the paper's scoop. By the time The Enquirer's issue made it onto newsstands, Jackson had already issued a statement confirming the facts of the story.

4. Bob Dole Was Once Frisky

This story never really got any traction, but during the 1996 presidential campaign, The Enquirer unearthed a scoop about Republican candidate, illeist, and future Viagra spokesman Bob Dole having once had a mistress. According to Meredith Roberts, a Washington trade publication editor, she had been Dole's mistress from 1968 to 1970 during the candidate's first marriage.

Even though Dole was using a family values platform to oppose Bill Clinton, most papers chose not to run with this story. (There were allegations that Elizabeth Dole personally called the Washington Post and begged for the paper to kill the story.) The Enquirer, however, interviewed Roberts and eventually published the story. In those pre-Lewinsky days, though, most editors seemed to think a 30-year-old affair wasn't all that relevant, and the story never took off.

5. Gary Hart's Political Ship Sails

"Follow me around. I don't care. I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored." Colorado senator and presidential hopeful Gary Hart issued this bizarre challenge to the media in a 1987 New York Times Magazine profile, just before his career spectacularly imploded.


Murmurs of Hart having an affair had been circulating around Washington, and the Miami Herald ran a story linking the senator to a Miami woman. Nothing concrete emerged until The Enquirer published a photo of 29-year-old model Donna Rice sitting in Hart's lap during a jaunt on Hart's yacht, Monkey Business. (Look closely and you'll see "Monkey Business Crew" written on Hart's shirt.) A week after The Enquirer published the picture of Hart and Rice, Hart dropped out of the 1988 presidential race.

6. The Enquirer Catches O.J. Again

You probably remember the firestorm of controversy that surrounded O.J. Simpson's "hypothetical confession" book If I Did It in 2007. The Enquirer actually broke the story of the book's existence in October 2006, complete with the correct title. Simpson's lawyers immediately denied that any such book project existed. Less than a year later, If I Did It hit bookstore shelves.

7. Rush Limbaugh Comes Clean

In 2003, The Enquirer ran a story in which conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh's housekeeper provided Limbaugh with a steady stream of OxyContin to feed his painkiller addiction. Although some media outlets turned up their noses at the Enquirer's scoop because the paper had paid housekeeper Wilma Cline for her story, law enforcement quickly confirmed that Limbaugh had purchased some 30,000 pills from Cline. Limbaugh then admitted on his show that he had a painkiller addiction and pledged to enter rehab.

They haven't all been winners, though. Here are some stories The Enquirer got wrong:

"¢ Carol Burnett was not drunk in public with Henry Kissinger in 1976, and she won a $1.6 million judgment against the paper.

"¢ The male family members of kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart were in fact not part of a gay sex ring.

"¢ Cameron Diaz was not caught cheating on Justin Timberlake in 2005.

"¢ Representative Gary Condit's wife did not attack missing intern Chandra Levy before Levy's 2001 disappearance.

"¢ Similarly, in 2004, Condit himself settled a $209 million libel suit against American Media, The Enquirer's publisher, for an undisclosed amount.

"¢ Clint Eastwood won $150,000 from The Enquirer in 1997 when the paper referred to a syndicated interview with the actor as "an exclusive."

"¢ Last June, actress Brooke Shields reached a settlement with The Enquirer after a reporter and a photographer from the paper checked her mother, who suffers from dementia, out of a New Jersey nursing home to gather information for a story.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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