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4 People Suspected of Being Deep Throat

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It’s been 10 years since Mark Felt, who served as Associate Director of the FBI under Nixon, told the world he was also “Deep Throat.” But for more than three decades after the then-anonymous source laid bare the scandal that brought down an administration, he was also one of history’s great unsolved mysteries—and speculation about the true identity of Deep Throat became something of a political parlor game.  

The story of Deep Throat begins in 1972, with two young reporters who had landed the scoop of the century. When Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post learned that five men had been arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel, they began to follow a trail that eventually implicated the Republicans, the Justice Department, the CIA, and President Nixon himself. The political furor that erupted led to the first-ever resignation of a United States president.  

Though Woodward and Bernstein relied on many sources in their reporting of the scandal, one informant was essential to their investigation. Their managing editor, Howard Simons, named him Deep Throat after a pornographic movie starring Linda Lovelace. Later, Woodward would write that “the interviews [with Deep Throat] were technically on ‘deep background’—a journalistic term meaning that information could be used but no source of any kind would be identified in the newspaper.” 

Over the years, the reporters protected Deep Throat’s identity, even as the informant became the most famous source in the history of journalism. Their tight-lipped refusal to reveal their sources only spurred speculation, resulting in a number of theories (some credible, some anything but) about their identities. Here are four people rumored to have been Deep Throat prior to the revelation that the source was really Mark Felt:  

1. John Ehrlichman 

Ehrlichman was White House counsel at the time of the scandal and ended up serving time in prison for his role in the cover-up. He was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy in 1974 and was the only one of the people imprisoned for the cover-up who went voluntarily, instead of attempting to navigate the appeals process. Some used this as evidence of his involvement in exposing the case. They cite Ehrlichman’s publicly stated approval of the role of the press as tacit acknowledgment that he himself leaked details of the break-in and coverup to the Post—perhaps because he felt guilty over his leadership of the covert “Plumbers” group tasked with stopping the leak of classified information to the media.

2. Fred Fielding 

Fielding was associate and deputy counsel at the White House during Nixon’s presidency. In 2003, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter William Gaines, who began teaching at the University of Illinois after his retirement from journalism, decided to put his students on the Watergate case. After reviewing thousands of documents, his team pointed the finger at Fielding. They matched details from Bernstein and Woodward’s book, All the President’s Men, to characteristics of Fielding, who ticked all of the boxes. The team cited six particular instances in which knowledge held by Fielding matched information provided by Deep Throat, making him the most credible candidate in the guessing game. 

3. Diane Sawyer 

Sawyer may be one of the most famous TV journalists of all time, but in 1995 she joined the group of suspected Deep Throats. Rabbi Baruch Korff, a religious leader who was one of Nixon’s close confidants, was ferociously loyal to the President. Even after Nixon’s resignation, Korff claimed that the President had committed no crimes, and during the scandal itself he formed the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency, a group dedicated to restoring Nixon’s good name. This loyalty was shared by Sawyer, who was on the plane that took Nixon home from the White House and helped organize Nixon’s Watergate files for his memoirs. While dying of cancer, Korff pointed the finger at Sawyer, claiming that she was, without a doubt, Deep Throat. “I have no solid evidence of it, but everything points to her,” he said—despite Woodward’s repeated claims that the informant was a man. 

4. Richard Nixon 

One of the weirdest theories about Deep Throat is that Richard Nixon himself was the anonymous informant. Since the scandal broke, rumors circulated that the President, tormented by his deeds or threatened by other forces, blew the whistle on himself by contacting Woodward. Those that held this belief reasoned that nobody knew the details of Nixon’s presidency as well as the president himself. But the theory was so over-the-top that it was explored mainly in side conversations and fictional works like Robert Altman’s 1984 movie Secret Honor. As Patrick Marnham noted in 1980, “If Deep Throat was Nixon, Watergate was about the President of the United States being off his marbles.”  

Other References 
The Encyclopedia Americana (Grolier, 2000)
Emmett Watson, My Life in Print (Lesser Seattle Pub., 1993) 
Marnham, Patrick. The Spectator245.7934 (Aug 2, 1980): 25.

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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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