CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

Music History #16: "Nothing Has Been Proved"

Original image
Getty Images

“Nothing Has Been Proved”
Written by Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe (1989)
Performed by Dusty Springfield

The Music


With kitchen sink ballads like “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” Dusty Springfield reigned as Britain’s queen of sophisticated pop drama in the 1960s. But by the late ‘70s, mental illness and substance abuse had derailed her career. Then, in 1987, the Pet Shop Boys collaborated with Dusty on the hit “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” and introduced her to a whole new generation. Two years later, the trio got together again to record “Nothing Has Been Proved” for the soundtrack of Scandal, a movie about the Profumo Affair. The song, featured over the closing credits, went to #16 on the UK charts.

Dusty’s video for the song mixes archival footage with scenes from the movie.

The History

As the 1960s dawned in England, the established order of post-war society was being challenged and subverted on many fronts. Penguin Books was prosecuted for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel by D.H. Lawrence that used the f-word and had several explicit—for the time, at least—sex scenes. Political and social satire was exploding in magazines (Private Eye), on television (That Was The Week That Was) and in the theater (Beyond The Fringe). Author Ian Fleming rocked the paperback trade with his fictional super spy James Bond. And of course, a pop culture curiosity called The Beatles was about to completely turn the country upside down.

That said, in 1963, it was still deeply shocking when a public figure like a politician got caught with their pants down.

Long before Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Elliot Spitzer, there was John Profumo.


Getty Images

The son of a prominent barrister, Profumo was an Oxford-educated veteran of WWII, recipient of the OBE (an award for distinguished service or achievement in the British Empire), and a highly-regarded British politician who had served in various government positions beginning in 1945. In 1960, he was appointed the Secretary of State for War.

He was happily married to a well-known actress named Valerie Hobson, and they had a young son. His life was altogether settled and respectable.

Then, at a party in 1961, Profumo met a stripper named Christine Keeler, and the wheels were set in motion for one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century.

The Showgirl and the Socialite


Getty Images

Keeler was born in Middlesex, England in 1942. After an unhappy childhood with an abusive stepfather, Keeler left home at 16 and settled in London. A few years later, she started working as a topless dancer. At Murray’s Cabaret Club, she befriended another stripper, Mandy Rice-Davies and, through her, met the man who would become the catalyst of the Profumo Affair, a doctor named Stephen Ward.

Ward was a prominent socialite, known for his extravagant parties that mixed rich and powerful members of London society with actors, musicians, and writers. He also had a thing for pretty girls from lower-class backgrounds. He dated Rice-Davies and Keeler, and soon they’d both moved in with him.

At one of his parties, Ward introduced Keeler to Profumo, and soon the two started having an affair. What the Secretary of War didn’t know was that Keeler was also sharing a bed with, among others, Yevgeny Ivanov, a senior naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy. Suddenly, an extramarital affair turned into a national security risk.

British military agency MI-5 had recruited Ward in a scheme to bring down Ivanov with sexual blackmail. When MI-5 approached Profumo for his help, he learned that his mistress was in the middle of the whole mess. Shortly after, he broke it off with her. But the damage had been done.

“No impropriety”

Profumo’s affair might’ve remained a secret if it hadn’t been for a shooting incident at the home of Rice-Davies. Among the many men that she and Keeler had been involved with, there were two gangsters. The result was not so much a love triangle as a love quadrilateral. Add in jealousy, drugs, and guns, and the situation came to a head when one of the gangsters came looking for Keeler and blasted the door of the flat.

That disturbance brought the police, which tipped off the press that there might be a bigger story afoot. Reporters soon sniffed out Keeler’s affairs with both Profumo and Ivanov, and the story hit the papers.

Profumo’s downfall came in March 1963, when he lied to the House of Commons, saying there was “no impropriety whatever.” It was the “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” of the 1960s. To make matters worse, Profumo threatened the press with libel and slander suits if the allegations were repeated. But the press kept investigating. On June 5, Profumo admitted that he had lied. In shame, he resigned.

Profumo, his wife and their 8-year old son soon disappeared from public view, taking up residence in the country. Profumo poured himself into social work. He has refused to ever speak about the affair with the press.

In 2006, his son David wrote Bringing Down The House, a frank memoir about his father and the effect his indiscretions had on his family.

Though it was never proved that his affair with Keeler had led to any breach in national security, the resulting scandal played a big part in forever changing how we view politicians.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
Animals
arrow
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES