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8 Celebrities Arrested for Obscenity (and What It Was They Said or Did)

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Freedom of speech? Not if it's deemed "obscene." These celebrities found that out the hard way. Though they weren't all convicted, they did end up fighting costly battles in court and had their names dragged through the mud, though in some cases - looking at you, Hugh Hefner - it only helped their causes. Read on for lots of obscene material.

1. If you’re going strictly by his arrest record, comedian Lenny Bruce is the King of Obscenity. From 1961 to 1964, Bruce was arrested four times for using all kinds of salty language. Arrest #1 was made on October 4, 1961, at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, after he used the word “c***sucker” in a show and also did a bit called “To is a Preposition; Come is a Verb.” Though he was acquitted, law enforcement started keeping a close eye on him, which resulted in arrest #2 for his use of the word “schmuck,” the Yiddish word for penis. Arrests #3 and #4 both happened at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village in April 1964, where undercover agents said he used more than 100 obscene words. In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki posthumously pardoned Bruce for the last two charges.

2. You know who also got arrested at Lenny Bruce’s “Schmuck” performance? George Carlin. Cops IDed everyone in the audience, and when they got to a young Carlin, he told them he didn’t believe in government IDs. He was hauled down to the station in the same wagon as Bruce. No doubt Carlin was a bit proud when he was slapped with an obscenity charge of his very own for performing his famous “Seven Dirty Words” routine in Milwaukee in 1972.

3. Obscenity charges certainly didn’t start with the comedy scene of the ‘60s. Bawdy Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for a play she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. It was called Sex, and it was deemed too steamy for 1927 audiences. West served eight days before she was released; she later bragged that the warden let her wear her own silk underwear instead of the scratchy prison issue ones.

4. When you see the Playboy Bunny logo on everything from casinos to reality shows, it’s almost hard to imagine that Hugh Hefner’s mag was once reviled. The magazine had been published for a decade (though not without complaint) before Hef was arrested on obscenity charges relating to a particularly racy photo shoot featuring Jayne Mansfield. Hef showed up at his trial with a Playmate on his arm and testified that only 5% of the magazine was dedicated to nude or semi-nude women, and that everyone basically just needed to chill out. A jury acquitted him 7-5.

5. The Doors’ Jim Morrison was charged with obscenity (“open profanity”) and indecent exposure in 1969 after he allegedly asked a Miami audience if they wanted to see what was in his pants. He then unzipped them and proceeded to simulate some rather rude things. Several of George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words were used. Morrison was arrested several days later and was sentenced to six months in jail after being found guilty at the ensuing trial. He appealed and was released on a $50,000 bond. Morrison was posthumously pardoned in 2010 by the Florida Board of Executive Clemency.

6. 2 Live Crew faced obscenity charges in 1990 when police officers brought tape recorders to one of their shows in Fort Lauderdale. The two-week trial was a bit ridiculous; the main evidence was a recording of such low quality that the lyrics were totally unintelligible. The jury ultimately found for the group.

7. Jim Morrison didn’t have a monopoly on lewd onstage activities. Wendy O. Williams of the punk band the Plasmatics was arrested on January 28, 1981, for getting a little too frisky with a sledgehammer in front of her audience. Shortly thereafter, Williams performed topless in Cleveland, wearing only electrical tape and shaving cream to cover the “obscene” bits. It didn’t stop Cleveland law enforcement from slapping her with another obscenity charge.

8. Less than a year after Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston got married in 1992, Brown was cited in Augusta, Georgia, for “simulated intercourse in a bed on stage during the fifth song of a recent concert.”

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]