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11 Dads of Famous Juniors

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Their offspring might be more well-known, but these dads gave their sons a giant gift: their names. Here are the Seniors behind a slew of familiar Juniors.

1. MARTIN LUTHER KING SR.

King couldn't have known how famous his name would become when he changed his given name in 1934. The civil rights icon's father was born Michael King in 1899, but after he became a successful Baptist minister, he changed his name to Martin Luther King to honor the leader of the Protestant Reformation. When dad changed his name to honor Martin Luther, so did his 5-year-old son Michael King Jr. Like his son, King Sr. was a tireless civil rights advocate; he even led the Atlanta branch of the NAACP.

2. HARRY CONNICK SR.

This father has been known to tickle the ivories and belt out a tune or two in New Orleans' nightclubs (a skill his namesake clearly picked up as well), but his main claim to fame is his legal prowess. From 1973 to 2003, Harry Connick Sr. served as the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, a tenure that earned him enshrinement in the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame.

3. WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY SR.

Buckley Sr. was a lawyer and prominent oil developer in Texas, and he was active in the oil business in Mexico during the early 20th century. At one point in 1921, he even found himself expelled from the country as the result of his lobbying to ease restrictions on American ownership of oil wells. Interestingly, William Jr., the author and founder of National Review magazine, was Sr.'s third-born son.

4. MEL KIPER SR.

Kiper Sr. never heard an NFL team call his name on draft day. Instead, the father of the NFL's preeminent draft guru worked a vending machine route, sold real estate, and coached college and high school baseball until his death in 1988. A 1992 Sports Illustrated profile of his son noted that Mel Sr. played a key role in helping get Mel Kiper Enterprises off the ground by helping Mel Jr. track down subscribers and advertisers for his early NFL draft newsletters.

5. CUBA GOODING SR.

He may have an Oscar-winning son, but Cuba Sr. knows a thing or two about showbiz himself. Gooding Sr. sang in the Motown group the Main Ingredient, including lead vocals on the band's hit songs "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely."

6. FREDDIE PRINZE SR.

Prinze was born Frederick Karl Pruetzel, but he changed his name to Freddie Prinze when his comedy career started to take off (joking that he'd wanted to be the king of comedy, but Alan King had already taken that surname). Prinze Sr. made appearances on The Tonight Show and The Jack Paar Show, and is probably best remembered for co-starring in the NBC sitcom Chico and the Man for four seasons in the mid-1970s. His son, late-'90s heartthrob Freddie Prinze Jr., was an infant when Prinze Sr. died at age 22.

7. ROBERT DOWNEY SR.

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He hasn't appeared in any mega-blockbusters like Iron Man like his son, Robert Downey Jr., but Sr. has enjoyed a long career as an actor, writer, and filmmaker. In 1972 he wrote and directed the cult film Greaser's Palace, and he had a small role in William Friedkin's 1985 neo-noir To Live and Die in L.A.

8. AL GORE SR. 

This father set a pretty good example for his son when it came to a career in politics. The future vice president's father served as the congressman for Tennessee's 4th district from 1939 until 1953. He then spent 18 years in the Senate, where he was one of the few Southern senators who did not oppose integration. Given his son's outspoken concerns about the climate, it is a bit surprising that Al Sr. worked as a lawyer for a petroleum company and later became chairman of Island Creek Coal Company following the end of his political career.

9. SAMMY DAVIS SR.

Sammy Davis Sr. (left), Sammy Davis Jr. (middle) and Will Mastin (right) performed as the Will Mastin Trio.

Sr. had a lot in common with his candy man son. Sammy Sr. was a successful dancer and vaudeville entertainer along with his wife, Elvera Sanchez, during the 1920s. When the pair split up in 1929, Sammy Sr. took his son on the road as part of a new dance act, the Will Mastin Trio, and the young future Rat Pack member spent the rest of his life in show business.

10. LARRY MULLEN SR.

Larry Sr. was surely proud of his son's success as the drummer for the up-and-coming band U2 during the early 1980s, but his boy's growing fame led to some sticky situations. The Irish revenue service apparently had trouble distinguishing the two men, so Dad kept getting hefty tax bills that were meant for his rock-star son. The drummer decided to clear up any confusion by permanently adding the "Jr." to his stage name.

11. KURT VONNEGUT SR.

The writer's father didn't compose much satirical science fiction, but he had a knack for designing buildings. As an architect working in Indiana during the mid-20th century, Vonnegut drew up plans for a number of Art Deco-inflected Indiana Bell offices and Hook's Drug Stores shops.

A version of this article originally ran in 2010.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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