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Truman Library

Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover: An Unlikely Friendship

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Truman Library

In 1945, as World War II struggled towards its eventual close, a fateful Oval Office meeting between Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman over Europe’s fate sparked what became not only an effective professional relationship, but a deeply personal one as well, despite their vast partisan differences. “Yours has been a friendship which has reached deeper into my life than you know,” Hoover once wrote of Truman, a sentiment often reciprocated by the latter president.

It all began towards the close of World War II in 1945, just over a month into Truman’s administration. Hoover had effectively exiled himself from public service since his landslide loss to FDR in the election of 1932. Before occupying the oval office himself, Hoover had twice risen to political prominence: First as a self-made millionaire in the mining industry, and again as a humanitarian organizer whose efforts in healing war-torn Europe earned him international renown. Capitalizing on his surging popularity, “the great engineer” handily won the presidency as a Republican in 1928, only to become the target of nationwide scorn after the stock market crashed just under a year later (hitchhikers in 1932 often successfully acquired rides simply by holding up signs which read “Give me a lift or I’ll vote for Hoover!”). After his victory, Roosevelt was quick to distance himself from his increasingly-disliked predecessor and, fearing that his political career was over, Hoover eventually retreated to a private life in California.

Recalling Hoover’s stellar performance in distributing nourishment and supplies to starving European families ravaged by the first World War, Truman decided to enlist the ex-president’s aid in rebuilding the continent after the second, writing in an invitational letter, “I would be most happy to talk over the European food situation with you… Also it would be a pleasure for me to become acquainted with you.”  On May 28, 1945, the two met in the White House—marking the first time Hoover had entered the building in 12 years—to discuss famine relief. Impressed by his humanitarian credentials and fervor, Truman later appointed Hoover honorary chairman of the Famine Emergency Committee, a role which sent him across the globe to procure rations for the needy and homeless.

Truman also secured Hoover’s legacy by helping to officially give the Hoover Dam its current name in honor of the president who had played a vital role in its construction (previously, it’d been dubbed the Boulder Dam). 

But apart from simply working well together, the two developed a sincere friendship over the years, one that lasted until Hoover’s death in 1964. In fact, the last words ever known to have been written by Hoover were sent to Truman via telegram on October 14, 1964, after the former learned Truman had slipped in his bathroom and fractured two ribs. The message read: “Bathtubs are a menace to ex-presidents for as you may recall a bathtub rose up and fractured my vertebrae when I was in Venezuela on your world famine mission in 1946. My warmest sympathy and best wishes for your recovery.” 

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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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iStock
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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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