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8 Notable Price Points Adjusted for Inflation

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There was a time when telephone calls cost a dime a minute if you used Sprint, and you could get a shave and a haircut for two bits. Were those prices as cheap as they sound in retrospect, or were they on par with what we’d pay today, based on the value of today’s dollar? Here are a few classic price points for comparison purposes.

1. Motel 6

Motel 6 was founded in 1962 and got its name from its room price: $6. Even when the chain went national in 1968, they still kept that same low price by offering no-frills accommodations—the beds were on pedestals to reduce vacuuming time, and the television sets were coin-operated. Paying $6 for a room in 1968 is the same as $40.87 in 2014.

2. A Five-Cent Cigar

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During a heated 1917 Senate debate, Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas was in the midst of a long-winded speech that included a laundry list of “What this country needs….” statements. Vice President Thomas Marshall leaned over to a clerk and remarked loudly, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar!” Paying a nickel for a stogie in 1917 would be the same as buying one for 93 cents today.

3. A $29.95 Paint Job

“I’ll paint any car, any color for $29.95!” Earl Scheib’s price went up gradually as the years went by, but when he first opened up shop in 1965, it ran you less than 30 bucks (sometimes with $10 worth of dent removal thrown in for free) to slap a new color on that AMC Rambler. Today that $29.95 paint job would cost the equivalent of $218.34.

4. Pepsi-Cola for a Nickel

Rival Coca-Cola was sold in six ounce bottles in 1946 at five cents a pop, so the Pepsi folks hit on the idea of selling their product in 12 ounce bottles for the same price: Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, twelve full ounces—that’s a lot! Twice as much for a nickel, too; Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you! Since five cents in 1946 is worth 61 cents today, Pepsi really was a bargain.

5. MAD Magazine for 25 Cents ("Cheap")

Image credit: MyTravelPhotos, via Flickr

What cost a quarter in 1961 would run $1.98 in 2014.

6. The $3990 Yugo

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Direct from Yugoslavia, the $3990 Yugo was the lowest-priced new car on the U.S. market when it was introduced in 1986. That sticker price would read $8630.63 today. (The Yugo gained infamy in 1989 when one blew off while crossing Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge during a high wind and plunged into the Straits below.)

7. Apple I for $666.66

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When the Apple I computer hit the market in 1976, the price tag was an unusual $666.66. Steve Wozniak said at the time the number had nothing to do with Satan and everything to do with his love of repetitive numerals. The cost of making that first Apple was about $540, so the $666.66 gave Woz both a decent mark-up and some obsessive-compulsive satisfaction. That original Apple would retail for $2777.62 today, which still contains a nice repeating digit but costs a heck of a lot more than an iPad.

8. The Six Million Dollar Man

Back in 1974, it cost $6,000,000 for the bionic parts needed to rebuild a better, stronger, faster Steve Austin (Lee Majors). Of course, today when the PowerBall jackpot is a mere $6 million it’s not worth a trip to the gas station to buy a ticket, but that amount in 1974 is actually the equivalent of $28,852,576.06 in 2014 dollars.

Motel 6 image via Wikimedia Commons

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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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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