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11 People Who Died in the U.S. Capitol

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1. John Quincy Adams

After his one term in the White House, Adams became one of just two presidents to return to Congress (Andrew Johnson was the other), serving in the House from 1843 until he died on the job. During a floor debate in 1848, Adams loudly voted "No" on a resolution, then collapsed at his desk. He was moved to the Speakers Lobby where he fell into a coma and died two days later. Interestingly, Abraham Lincoln, then a freshman Congressman, would serve as a pallbearer at his funeral.

2. Morris Michael Edelstein

Edelstein, a New York Democratic Representative, made his final floor speech count. Fellow Rep. John Elliot Rankin of Mississippi had just given an antisemitic speech, accusing "our international Jewish brethren" of trying to "harass the President of the United States into plunging us into the European war." Edelstein, who was Jewish, offered a rebuttal, which closed with:

"I deplore the idea that any time anything happens, whether it be for a war policy or against a war policy, men in this House and outside this House attempt to use the Jews as their scapegoat. I say it is unfair and I say it is un-American. As a member of this House I deplore the allegations because we are living in a democracy. All men are created equal regardless of race, creed or color. Whether a man be a Jew or a Gentile he may think what he deems fit."

Shortly after finishing, Edelstein walked off the floor and had a fatal heart attack in the House cloakroom. When news spread that he had died, the speaker tried to adjourn the House, but first had to wait through five impromptu eulogies.

3. Henry Wilson

Wilson was chosen to replace the scandal-plagued Schuyler Colfax as vice president during Ulysses S. Grant's second term. But just months into his term in 1873, Wilson suffered a major stroke and spent much of the next few years at home in Massachusetts, writing books and resting. By 1875, he had regained enough strength to start plotting a possible presidential run and made it back to Washington with the hopes of presiding over the opening of the new Congress the following year. But that November, Wilson found himself paralyzed after taking a bath in the basement of the Capitol (at the time, legislators had access to marble bathrooms in the basement) and was sent back to his office in the Capitol building to rest. Days later, he was told that one of his former Senate colleagues, Orris Ferry of Connecticut, had died. According to the Senate historian, Wilson said "that makes 83 dead with whom I have sat in the Senate," then rolled over and soon passed away.

4. John Lenthall

Lenthall worked as the Clerk of the Works to architect Benjamin Latrobe during construction of the U.S. Capitol at the start of the 19th Century. Lenthall was working on what would become the Old Supreme Court Chamber, which involved a new and unusual design. Thinking construction was complete, Lenthall removed the wooden supports that were supporting an arch in the room, which collapsed and killed him. Legend has it that Lenthall cursed the Capitol with his dying breath, which is brought up during any construction problem.

5. Thomas Bouldin

Bouldin had served two terms in the House, representing Virginia from 1829-1833 before being voted out. But he was called in just months later when, in August, Rep. John Randolph died. On Feb. 11, 1834, Bouldin rose to address the House, spoke a few sentences, then collapsed and was declared dead on the floor. He was succeeded by his brother, James, who would go on to serve another two terms.

6. William Preston Taulbee

Taulbee had served two terms in the House, representing Kentucky, when he was caught having an affair with a young woman named Laura Dodge, whom he had gotten a job as a patent clerk. Charles Kincaid, a writer for the Louisville Times reported the affair with gusto, splashing it in the paper with the headline "Kentucky's Silver-Tongued Taulbee Caught in Flagrante, or Thereabouts, with Brown-Haired Miss Dodge."

Taulbee did not seek re-election, but instead took a job as a lobbyist that required him to spend a good deal of time in the Capitol. He and Kincaid ran into each other a fair amount after that and Taulbee would insult the reporter or even pull his ear whenever they passed each other in the halls. On Feb. 28, 1890, however, Kincaid got his revenge. Having been roughed up by Taulbee that morning, Kincaid returned to the Capitol with a pistol and shot him on a marble staircase (Taulbee died 11 days later from the wound). It's said that Taulbee's blood is still visible as a stain on the staircase where he was shot.

7. Edward Everett Eslick

Eslick, a Democratic Representative from Tennessee, was giving an impassioned speech on the House floor in June 1932 when he had a heart attack mid-sentence and died on the floor. His widow, Willa Eslick, ended up running to replace him and became the state's first Congresswoman.

8. Augustus Hill Garland

After serving as both governor of and senator from Arkansas, Garland was appointed to be Attorney General under President Grover Cleveland. He made it through a scandal-ridden term, during which he became the first sitting cabinet member to be censured by Congress, then left the White House and practiced law in Washington. In January 1899, Garland was arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court, at the time still housed in the Capitol, when he suffered a stroke and died a few hours later in a nearby office.

9. Unnamed Civil War Soldier

In the summer of 1862, military leaders converted the U.S. Capitol into a hospital for wounded Union soldiers and set up more than 1,000 cots in Statuary Hall. The conditions, however, were horrible and the patients were cleared out by October of that year. But according to legend, at least one who died on site never left. Staffers and visitors say that they've seen the ghost of a Civil War soldier at night in the hall, darting among the statues.

10 and 11. Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson

Gibson and Chestnut were killed in a 1998 attack on the Capitol by Russell Eugene Weston Jr. Although his motives were unclear, Weston shot Chestnut while entering the building, then ran towards the offices of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. There he shot Gibson, who fired back and wounded the gunman and allowed him to be apprehended. Both Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson later died from their wounds and were laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda, the first police officers to receive the honor. The United States Capitol Police Memorial Fund was also created in their honor.

Note: The original version of this article mistakenly referred to Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson as on-duty security guards. We regret the error.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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