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Old News: Very Early Media Coverage of the GOP Candidates

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Every week, I used to wander into the New York Times archives to find the first time the paper covered various topics (like The Walkman). In honor of tonight's Iowa Caucus, we're bringing back "The First Time News Was Fit to Print." Here are the first times The Times mentioned each of the remaining GOP candidates.

Mitt Romney

February 28, 1960

A Maverick Starts a New 'Crusade'
mitt-and-george.jpgGeorge Romney feels that he has pat across the compact car. Now he is turning his missionary fervor to a campaign to reshape American political institutions.


The man who made the compact car big competition for Detroit's land yachts is crusading against bigness on an even bigger scale these days. George Romney, the almost terrifyingly earnest head of the American Motors Corporation, has moved from his conquest of the gas-guzzling dinosaur into a battle to break up the concentration of economic power embodied in giant companies and giant unions.
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He speaks with equal disrespect of the ranking politicians of both major parties when it comes to their readiness to face up to what he considers the make-or-break issues in America's survival.
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George Romney considers talking his wife out of a movie career his greatest sales achievement. They are shown here with their children, Mitt, Jane and Scott.

[Well, not here. This picture is from two years later, when George announced he was running for President. To see the picture referenced here, you'll have to check out the original article.]

Ron Paul

April 28, 1976

Big Victory by Bentsen Called Vital to Re-election
ron-paul.jpg
John B. Connally, the popular former Democratic Governor [of Texas], was credited in 1970 with pushing Mr. [Lloyd] Bentsen to victory over Mr. [George] Bush [in the Senate race]. Mr. Connally, now a Republican, helped a politically unknown gynecologist, Dr. Ron Paul, upset a liberal Democrat, Bob Gammage, in a race last month to fill the unexpired 22d Congressional District seat vacated by Democrat Bob Casey, who has been appointed to the Federal Maritime Commission.

Rick Santorum

November 7, 1990

The 1990 Elections: State by State
In an upset, Representative Doug Walgren, a seven-term Democratic Congressman from Pittsburgh, lost to a political neophyte, Richard Santorum, a 32-year-old Republican lawyer who ran on an anti-incumbent theme.

Michele Bachmann

September 24, 2006

Campaign in Crisis Mode (by Charles Baxter)
While my assignment was to write about Minnesota’s important Senate race, I think there’s more to be learned right now from the far closer contest in Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, which borders Minneapolis-St. Paul to the east, north and west. The race, between Michele Bachmann, the Republican, and Patty Wetterling, the Democrat, has revealed a Bush-era national trend now visible locally.
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Terrorism has infected every subject and every discussion, even locally. Alarmism has become so ubiquitous in discussions of Iraq, the decline of the family and financing for Social Security and education that polarization is assured. Extremity, after all, is more newsworthy than good sense.

This outlook has the effect of trivializing most local issues — who cares about farm-price supports when radical Muslims want to make Stillwater part of the caliphate? And it ensures that the volume will always be turned up to 11 — at least until everybody begins to suffer crisis fatigue and tries to calm down.

Newt Gingrich

November 2, 1974

Divided GOP in Georgia Facing a Rout on Tuesday
In another House race, however, Republicans may be able to take some comfort. In the state's Sixth District, suburban Atlanta, the 10-term Democratic mainstay who ran unopposed in 1972, faces a strong challenge from a 31-year-old history professor, Newt Gingrich. Although Mr. Flynt is favored, he is facing some difficulty because he is now running in a redrawn district in which his strength has not yet been tested.

[Note: Gingrich narrowly lost.]

Rick Perry

November 8, 1990

Farm Chief's Foe Has the Last Laugh
The Texas Agriculture Commissioner with the Borscht Belt sense of humor is out. Jim Hightower, a two-term incumbent known as an advocate of enlightened farming as well as one of the funniest figures in American politics, was defeated Tuesday by Rick Perry, a 40-year-old rancher and farmer.
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Katie Dickie, Mr. Perry's press secretary, said today that her candidate "took a lot of angry farmers, banded them together, raised money in places like Garden City, Sterling City, the small places all across Texas, East Texas and West Texas."

She added, "Rick wants to refocus the department on mainstream agriculture."

Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.

July 22, 1998

Nova of Canada to Purchase Huntsman Styrene Business
The Nova Corporation of Canada will acquire the bulk of the styrene operations of the Huntsman Corporation for $860 million (United States) in cash and preferred stock, the companies announced yesterday.
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For Huntsman, of Salt Lake City, the largest privately held chemical company in the United States, the deal represents a chance to pay down debt and to increase funds to homeless shelters and other charities that its ownership family has long supported.

In particular, it will let Huntsman funnel more than $100 million into research on genetic predispositions to cancer. Jon M. Huntsman [the candidate's father], the company's chairman, lost both his parents to cancer and has had two bouts with the disease himself.
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Under the terms of yesterday's deal, Huntsman will receive $625 million in cash, and $235 million of nonvoting preferred shares, which can be converted to a maximum of 10 million common shares of Nova stock in two years. Nova will also assume $60 million of Huntsman's debt. After the deal, Huntsman will become Nova's largest shareholder.

Mr. Huntsman expects the two companies to combine some purchasing operations and to seek ways to combine product lines and operations. His son, Jon M. Hunstman Jr., will sit on Nova's board.

More First Mentions Worth Mentioning...

Greatest Hits of 2007 (Walkman, Email, Jerry Seinfeld and more)
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Greatest Hits of 2008 (Princess Diana, Personal Computer, John McCain and more)
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See all the previous installments of The First Time News Was Fit To Print
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November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

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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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