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Stacy Conradt

Grave Sightings: John Dillinger

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

Eighty years ago next week, one of the world’s most infamous gangsters met his match. John Dillinger was not killed in the middle of a shootout, or even mid-heist. He was simply walking out of a movie theater in Chicago. 

In 1924, at the young age of 21, Dillinger and a pal unsuccessfully attempted to rob a local grocery store in Mooresville, Indiana. He received an unduly harsh sentence and ended up serving nearly nine years in prison. While he was there, his stepmother died —his real mother had died when he was just three—and his wife left him. “I will be the meanest bastard you ever saw when I get out of here,” he said while incarcerated, and it seems he followed through on that threat.

Having nothing to go home to, Dillinger used his time behind bars to network with other gangsters and robbers, gathering tips and tricks for how to best swindle banks out of their cash stores. When he was finally paroled on May 10, 1933, he put his plans into action almost immediately.

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The crime spree that ensued was intense, but actually rather short-lived. His first post-prison robbery was on June 21, when he relieved the New Carlisle National Bank in New Carlisle, Ohio, of $10,000. He robbed at least four more banks that summer before his shenanigans caught up with him and he was jailed—but not for long. Some of his buddies from the Indiana State Prison had recently escaped, thanks in part to guns smuggled to them by Dillinger. They returned the favor and helped him bust out of jail, killing the sheriff in the process.

The Jackrabbit robbed at least three more banks in the fall and winter of 1933-34, including a massive $74,802 heist at a bank in Greencastle, Indiana, in October. He and his gang also brazenly busted into the state police arsenals to steal machine guns, rifles, ammo, and bulletproof vests. In January, he and three of his gang members were captured in Tucson. Dillinger was extradited to the jail in Crown Point, Indiana, a building that had been dubbed “inescapable.” Despite this, and despite the fact that the jail posted extra guards, Dillinger escaped yet again. Though it has famously been claimed that he used a razor to carve a gun out of wood or soap, PBS reports that it was actually just a clear cut case of bribery.

From March to July, Dillinger robbed four more banks and got himself a little plastic surgery. He was involved in a couple of shootouts, including one that killed a few of his cohorts. His girlfriend got arrested. But he also had some fun—Dillinger enjoyed a super secret picnic with his family back in Indiana, and even made it to a few Cubs games. J. Edgar Hoover was infuriated that Public Enemy #1 was just gallivanting around the midwest as he pleased, and formed a special task force meant to take Dillinger down. It was this task force that received a call from a woman who said she could help them get their man if they would prevent her from being deported. The agents agreed, and Anna Sage said that she and her friend Polly, Dillinger's new girl, would be accompanying the gangster to the movies on the afternoon or night of July 22, 1934. 

Agents were waiting to ambush the group as they walked out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago around 10:30 that night. When the three of them exited the theater, agent Melvin Purvis lit a cigar to signal to the other agents that the target was in sight. Dillinger realized what was happening and may or may not have pulled a gun as he ran into the nearby alley (reports vary). The agents opened fire, with three of their five bullets finding their mark. He died shortly thereafter and was buried in the family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, where people sympathetic to the gangster still leave pennies to this day. The current tombstone is at least the fourth version—the others became too damaged by souvenir hunters.

Stacy Conradt

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]