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16 Ways to Find Love in the Personal Ads (in 1900)

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In the early 1900s, meeting someone through a newspaper personal ad enjoyed a brief period of semi-respectability—especially in the West, where your burgeoning little town may not have even had any eligible people of the opposite sex. Rural life was hard, almost untenable without a helpmate.

The ads, accordingly, were short and direct. Love was never mentioned. “Suitability” was the characteristic that mattered. Yet among these stark requests for partnership, strange variants could occur. Here are some versions of them.

Missed Connections and Fantastic Haircuts

Here we see two examples of the sweetest of meet-cutes, the lost opportunity on the streetcar. Except one is actually shilling for a barber, and quite clumsily at that. Try and guess which!

1. “Gentleman would like to correspond with young lady, dressed in light, wearing large black hat, who was on Broadway car last Sunday evening, sitting next to lady chewing gum. “

2. “Young lady, stranger in the city, would like to meet gentleman that was on the 6:30 Akeny car last evening. The one who said he had just got his hair cut for 25 cents and his shoes shined free at the Model Barber Shots. He said it is the place that employs only the best of barbers.”

Wanted: Servant

First, clean my house and file my papers. Do a good job and you’re hir…my everlasting true love.

3. “Gentleman, in office, seeks lady assistant; matrimony if suited.”

4. “HOUSEKEEPER: 18 to 30 years of age, wanted by widower,40. Have prominent position with the rail company, have 75 acre ranch also house in town; object matrimony if suited; have boy 13 years old, would not object to housekeeper having child. Can give best references.”

Points for Honesty?

Most writers of personals made themselves sound like wealthy young sophisticates who were taking time off from their European luxury cruise to jot down the ad. But occasionally there was a person wasn’t shy about who he was and what he wanted. On average, what he wanted was a young stout lass who works like a mule on the ranch she also owns. Here’s hoping they had good luck with that.

5. “Middle aged mechanic desires acquaintance of respectable domestic; blonde, stout, age about 25 preferred. Object: matrimony.”

6. “I want a good wife of matured age. I have a nice home and some income property, but am some involved. Would secure a wife that could help me out; then we would have income enough to live on without work.”

7. “Gentleman from East wishes to meet widow owning ranch; no objection to a small child or two, object marriage.”

8. “Wanted: wife. Farmer’s daughter preferred, willing to marry poor man. Must be good girl, good-looking, weight 100 or under, no grafters.”

Just Get Me Out of Here

These ads beg to tell tales of scandal and loss that we will never know.

9. “A widow, 36, would like to correspond with gentleman either from Alaska or the East. Have some property, excellent housekeeper and cook; willing to go anywhere, all letters containing self-addressed envelopes answered. No triflers.”

10. “Young woman, reared in luxury, having lost everything and earned her living for the past eight years, is tired of teaching and wishes a home: would like to meet a well-to-do businessman who would appreciate refinement and affection in a wife. Object: matrimony.”

True Love, On Sale Now

In these ads, the men specifically want to do business with a lady. They apparently thought them easier marks; more likely to hand over money to a “gentleman” who could fling a little woo. Sure I love you, my sweet. Just make that check out to “cash.”

11. “Young New York Gentleman in publishing business wants to meet a young lady , 18 to 24 years old, with $500. $50 weekly assured. Must be refined; object matrimony.”

12. “Gentleman, 40, would correspond with lady of some means; business proposition and results; have had experience; no triflers.”

13. “Businessman and gentleman, 40, good appearance and habits, stranger in the city, wishes the acquaintance of lady with a small amount of money, to take interest in paying business; strictly confidential. “

Nothing Suspicious Here

Of course men could be easy marks too, if you knew what to offer. Who could have imagined how many beautiful, submissive women were out there, begging rugged Oregonian men to take their money and give their life meaning? And that the best way to do that would be through a 7 cent personal ad?

14. “Attractive, refined lady, independently wealthy; cash and property; generous, with sweet disposition, seeks husband and advisor.”

15. “Young widow, age 28 with $10,000: lady, 20, with $50,000; lady, 25, $15,00, blonde, 18, cash and beautiful farm. I seek honorable husbands for all these. Contact Mrs. W, Chicago.”

Won’t Get Burned Again

And my very favorite, the gentleman who will have no truck with waitresses or shooting gallery clerks. It sounds like he’s speaking from the side of experience. Painful, painful experience.

16. “Gentleman of 30 would like to meet or correspond with a widow or maid; strictly confidential, no triflers, no waitresses, shooting gallery clerks, or lady barbers will be considered. Object: matrimony.”

See Also: 7 Tips for Keeping Your Man (in the 1950s)

* Personal Ads are from The Oregonian newspaper, from between 1901 and 1909.

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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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May 23, 2017
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