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One Witness to the Lincoln Assassination Might Have Been Alive During Your Lifetime

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On April 12, 1956, Samuel J. Seymour died in his daughter’s home in Arlington, Virginia. This isn’t really noteworthy on its own. People die every day. Mr. Seymour was 96 years old on the day he died, though, which means he was born in 1860, the year before the American Civil War began, and was the longest-surviving witness to one of the nation’s great tragedies.

In the spring of 1865, when Seymour was 5 years old, he joined his father on a business trip to Washington, D.C. While the elder Seymour attended to business at his client's estate, Samuel and his nurse were entertained by the client’s wife, Mrs. Goldsboro.

“Sammy, you and I and Sarah are going to a play—a real play,” Seymour recalled Goldsboro telling him. The play was called Our American Cousin, and they went to the evening performance on April 14 at Ford’s Theater.

As they took their seats in one of the balconies, Goldsboro pointed across the theater to a draped balcony box.

“See those flags, Sammy? That’s where President Lincoln will sit.”

When the president and his party arrived and took their seats, Goldsboro lifted Seymour up so he could have a clear view.

“He was a tall, stern-looking man,” Seymour said of Lincoln. “I guess I just thought he looked stern because of his whiskers, because he was smiling and waving to the crowd.”

During the play’s third act, Seymour wrote, “all of a sudden a shot rang out—a shot that will always be remembered—and someone in the president’s box screamed.”

Seymour didn’t actually see anyone shoot Lincoln, but he watched as the president slumped over in his chair and a man jumped from the balcony to the stage. He landed awkwardly, and appeared to have hurt himself.

“Hurry, hurry,” Seymour begged Goldsboro. “Let’s go help the poor man who fell down.”

Not knowing who the man was or what he had just done, Seymour was concerned for his well-being, but John Wilkes Booth's landing was smooth enough that he escaped the theater and evaded pursuit for almost two weeks.

Samuel Seymour did not sleep easy when he finally escaped the commotion of the theater and returned home.

“That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams,” Seymour later said. “And I sometimes still relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

In February 1956, Seymour appeared on the TV game show I’ve Got a Secret, where the panelists were able to guess his secret in just a few minutes. He died just a few months later, survived by five children, 13 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]