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4 Intriguing Possibilities From Past VP Shortlists

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Until Mitt Romney names his running mate, you're going to be hearing a lot about potential vice presidents. Here are four interesting names that came up in VP discussions during past campaigns.

1. Eleanor Roosevelt, with Harry Truman (1948)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected to four terms when he passed away in 1945 and left the office to Harry Truman. When Truman ran to keep the job a few years later, the public was already clamoring to see if he’d consider the ubiquitous Mrs. Roosevelt as a running mate. “Why of course, of course,” he replied, “What do you expect me to say to that?”

In 1947, the North Dakota State Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution endorsing a Democratic ticket of Truman and Mrs. Roosevelt, but she later denied ever considering the job, saying, “The simple truth is that I have had my fill of public life of the more or less stereotyped kind.” The spot eventually went to 71-year-old Alben Barkley, who was an energetic and rousing speaker despite being the oldest VP. Barkley was armed with an endless supply of folksy quips like this one: “A good story is like fine Kentucky bourbon. It improves with age and, if you don’t use it too much, it will never hurt anyone.”

2. Clint Eastwood, with George H.W. Bush (1988)

Landov

As lasting as the Bush legacy turned out to be, Bush Sr.’s 1988 election didn’t always seem so rosy. At one point Bush was 18 points behind, and campaign chairman James Baker (later Secretary of State) knew they needed a shot in the arm. “We were way behind. Honestly, [Clint Eastwood] was suggested in not an altogether unserious – Well, he was a mayor. He was a Republican mayor.”

Indeed, one of Hollywood’s biggest badasses had recently made his foray into politics, quietly presiding over the sleepy art community of Carmel-by-the-Sea. He later said he knew nothing of his brush with Veepdom, but admitted, “I would have said, ‘I want to be the first part of the ticket…why would I want to play a supporting role?’”

3. Former President Gerald Ford, with Ronald Reagan (1980)

Reuters/Landov

When Ronald Reagan started his 1980 bid for the presidency, he really wanted to be taken seriously. One such serious presidential-type decision he’d have to make: who to name as his running mate. After considering expert advice, the Gipper narrowed it down to three veteran politicians: Howard “The Great Conciliator” Baker, George H.W. Bush (SPOILER ALERT), and former President Gerald Ford.

What could be more presidential than a guy who’d already been President? Ford allegedly agreed to run, but only if he would be given such vastly expanded power as vice president that he and Reagan would form a team of de facto “co-presidents.” The idea didn’t sit well with Reagan’s advisers, but Ford had a pretty strong team to make his case. Ford’s representatives in these negotiations included Henry Kissinger, Alan Greenspan, and Dick Cheney, who had been Ford’s White House Chief of Staff. Ford’s team allegedly wanted a heavy say on foreign policy matters; rumors later emerged that Kissinger would have become Secretary of State in the co-presidents’ cabinets.

Excitement about the so-called “dream ticket” spread like pork barrel spending among the political ranks, going so far as to reach Walter Cronkite, who couldn’t resist breaking the story, despite the fact that Reagan was already leaning towards Bush.

4. Donald Rumsfeld, with Gerald Ford (1976)

Though no one can deny the vastness of Donald Rumsfeld’s political clout, there was a time when he was a breath away from being a breath away from being the leader of the free world. In 1974, Gerald Ford had Rumsfeld on his short list for the vice presidential ticket before going with Nelson Rockefeller, son of a powerful Senator and, you know, a Rockefeller. Ford named Rumsfeld chief of staff instead, and he wasted no time proving that his job was more important than that of the uppity Rockefeller.

When Ford ousted Rockefeller for his re-election campaign, Rockefeller blamed Rumsfeld for poisoning the well. Really, Ford was reportedly tired of Rockefeller’s ambitious attempts at a “co-presidency.” The second time around, Rumsfeld was again short-listed and again dropped, this time to the considerably more relatable Senator Bob Dole. (Remember Bob Dole? Bob Dole remembers Bob Dole.) Maybe it was for the best, though; Rummy’s one-time rival, Rockefeller has since been quoted as saying, “I’ve known all the Vice Presidents since Henry Wallace. They were all frustrated, and some were pretty bitter.”

BONUS: 2 Who Actually Joined the Ticket

Gen. Curtis LeMay, with George Wallace (in 1968)

George Wallace’s political career was riddled with disappointment, including but not limited to four unsuccessful bids for the presidency, the last of which ended with an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed.

During the 1968 election, Wallace went a little rogue; he decided to forgo his usual Democratic alignment and run on the American Independent ticket, and chose for his running mate a decorated WWII hero named General Curtis LeMay. LeMay was a notoriously vocal advocate of nuclear armament, and he coined a now familiar phrase within his policy on the Vietnam War: “My solution to the problem [of North Vietnam] would be to tell them frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.” (He later insisted that he wasn’t advocating they nuke the Vietnamese per se, he just wanted them to know that the U.S. was capable of it.)

Following the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, the media frequently and gleefully compared LeMay to the film’s most inflammatory characters: General Jack T. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden), a paranoid, cigar-chomping psychopath who sets off a nuclear doomsday machine, and General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) a blindly patriotic, commie-hating hawk who shoots first and asks questions later. The comparisons didn't help LeMay’s political career or the ticket. Wallace/LeMay finished a distant third with 46 electoral votes.

Thomas Eagleton, with George McGovern (1972)

Thomas Eagleton was the first term Missouri Senator who ran alongside George McGovern on the 1972 Democratic ticket for 18 days. Eagleton wasn’t the campaign’s first choice; McGovern had been holding out for Teddy Kennedy, and settled for Eagleton at the last minute when it became clear Kennedy had other plans.

In their haste, campaign advisors took Eagleton’s word for it that he had nothing in his past they should know about. But newspapers soon began to report on his mental health history. He had been thrice hospitalized for depression, and had twice undergone electroshock therapy. In the scramble, McGovern rebutted that he was “1,000 percent for Tom Eagleton,” only to ask Eagleton to withdraw soon after. Nixon cruised to a second term, and the event set a new precedent for the candidate vetting process—all subsequent candidate background questionnaires have included detailed sections on psychiatric care.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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