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5 Things You Didn't Know About John Tyler

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You know that John Tyler took over the presidency when William Henry Harrison died in 1841, but what else do you know about "Tyler Too"? Here are five things about our tenth president you might find interesting.

1. He Set Up Presidential Succession as We Know It

You probably remember from history class that Tyler ran for the vice-presidency with William Henry Harrison on the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" slogan. You probably also remember that Old Tippecanoe lasted about a month in office before succumbing to an illness. Harrison's death brought up an odd situation for the federal government. For the first time ever, a President had died in office, and it wasn't entirely clear how the succession situation would play out.

Amid the confusion, Tyler declared that he had full presidential powers. He arranged to be sworn in and gave an inaugural address while downplaying any talk of being a "temporary" President. Although opponents dubbed Tyler "His Accidency," his rise to power would set the basic standard for presidential succession that would eventually be formalized in 1967 with the 25th amendment. Tyler's plan wasn't exactly the same as the one we have now, though; he spent the rest of his term without a vice president.

2. He Wasn't So Popular

When you've got a nickname like "His Accidency," you're already working behind the 8-ball as a politician.

That was actually the least of Tyler's problems, though. He had been elected as part of a Whig Party ticket, but his actual politics didn't always mesh well with the actual Whig doctrine. Tyler had strong states' rights leanings, and these beliefs made him butt heads with party bigw(h)igs like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

Thanks to these philosophical differences, Tyler earned a slew of dubious presidential firsts. When Tyler twice vetoed a national banking act that Clay was desperately trying to pass, the Whigs expelled him from their party, a definite first for a sitting president. Then, his entire cabinet except for Secretary of State Webster resigned in retaliation over Tyler's policies.

It gets better/worse, too. In 1842 Tyler's former allies introduced the first impeachment resolution against a sitting president over his use of veto powers. Representative John Quincy Adams led a committee that found Tyler had improperly used his veto, but the resolution failed. Congress had the last laugh, though; Tyler became the first president to have his veto overridden by the legislature when Congress overrode him on a minor ship-building bill on his last day in office.

3. He Annexed Texas

Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836, so for Tyler's term in office it was its own independent republic. (Mexico, though, still claimed the Lone Star State as part of its territory.) Tyler pushed hard for the annexation of Texas, and as his term was expiring in early 1845, the Senate finally approved a joint resolution in favor of annexation by a slim 27-25 margin. Tyler signed the Texas statehood bill into law on March 1, 1845, a mere three days before the end of his term. The city Tyler, TX, is named after the president who helped get the state into the union.

4. His Grandchildren Are Still Alive!

Tyler was born during George Washington's presidency, and his own stay in the White House ended in 1845. Yet somehow he still has two living grandsons. How does that work? First, Tyler was, ahem, prolific. He fathered 15 kids, the most of any president. He didn't slow down in his golden years, either; his last child didn't turn up until Tyler was 70 years old. His son Lyon Gardiner Tyler was similarly active in his old age; Lyon fathered Harrison Tyler in 1928 at the ripe old age of 75. Harrison Tyler's brother, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., is three years older.

Amazingly, both brothers are still alive and kicking. Lyon is a retired professor of history who formerly taught at the Citadel, and Harrison is a retired chemist who now gives history lectures and helps maintain the family's old plantation, Sherwood Forest, in Charles City County, Virginia.

(Interesting side note about Sherwood Forest: Tyler gave his spread the Robin-Hood-inspired name because he considered himself to be a political outlaw. The main building is the longest frame house in the U.S. It's 300 feet long but only one room deep!)

5. He Died a Traitor to the United States

After Tyler's tumultuous presidency ended, his political career was pretty much shot. His 1862 obituary in The New York Times described Tyler as "the most unpopular public man that had ever held any office in the United States," and even that depiction might have been a bit charitable. Tyler did manage to maintain some popularity throughout the South, though, so when the Confederacy broke away at the start of the Civil War, Tyler found himself elected to the Congress of the Confederate States of America.

Tyler died in 1862 before he could take his seat, but running for a Confederate office severely hurt his stock in Washington. President Lincoln didn't issue a proclamation mourning Tyler's passing, and flags didn't dip to half-staff on federal properties. The Confederacy, on the other hand, threw a lavish funeral for Tyler in Richmond, including a 150-carriage procession.

Just how reviled in the North was Tyler when he died? Check out the penultimate paragraph of the aforementioned Times obit: "He ended his life suddenly, last Friday, in Richmond -- going down to death amid the ruins of his native State. He himself was one of the architects of its ruin; and beneath that melancholy wreck his name will be buried, instead of being inscribed on the Capitol's monumental marble, as a year ago he so much desired."

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]