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10 Facts For John Hancock's Birthday

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You won’t find his likeness anywhere on American currency. Instead, we’ve given this founding father a linguistic tribute—thanks to one revolutionary document, his very name is now a synonym for signature. Join us as we celebrate this great New England statesman on his birthday.

1. HE WAS ADOPTED BY HIS UNCLE WHEN HE WAS 7.

Born in Braintree, Massachusetts on January 23, 1737 (according to the Gregorian calendar), Hancock was named after his father, the Reverend John Hancock. A Puritan minister, the elder John lived in a manse provided by the congregation he served with his wife, Mary Hawke Thaxter, and their three children; little John was the second. When the Reverend died in 1744, the family found itself homeless, their house promised to his replacement. Mary was moving the family to live with the children’s paternal grandfather, but John wound up under the care of his childless paternal uncle, Thomas Hancock. A powerful Boston merchant, Thomas and his wife, Lydia, handled Mary’s financial needs from afar while raising John as their own son and eventual heir.

2. HE ATTENDED THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE III.

In 1760, Thomas sent his young protégé to England on a sensitive business trip, where Hancock became a witness to history (though certainly not for the last time). King George II was buried on November 13; among those present at his funeral was 23-year-old Hancock. In a letter to Thomas, the traveler expressed a deep desire to attend another royal event—King George III’s coronation. “I can’t yet determine whether I shall stay to see it,” he wrote, “but rather think I shall, as it is the grandest thing I shall ever meet with.”

Hancock is said to have not only watched the ceremony, but to have been briefly introduced, afterward, to his new monarch—who would one day put a 500-pound bounty on the New Englander.

3. REPORTEDLY, HE WAS A BOSTON TEA PARTY CHEERLEADER.

Hancock himself didn’t take part in the protest, in which Boston natives snuck aboard three British ships on December 16, 1773 and threw 342 chests of East India Company tea overboard—but he was one of the most vocal supporters of the party. George Robert Twelves Hewes, one of the tea-snatchers who illegally boarded the vessels, said that the last thing he recalled of the meeting that preceeded the tea party was Hancock’s shout of “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.” But some historians think that Hancock’s motives weren’t exactly virtuous; Hancock supposedly made part of his fortune smuggling in Dutch tea, and the Tea Act meant that East India Company tea would be cheaper than the stuff he smuggled in.

4. HANCOCK DESPERATELY WANTED TO FIGHT IN THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON.

On April 18, 1775, Hancock and fellow revolutionary Samuel Adams were lodging in Lexington, Massachusetts at the former home of Hancock’s grandfather. Little did they know that the shot heard ‘round the world would go off in just a few short hours. On the orders of the British government, General Thomas Gage led 700 red-coated troops to seize a nearby colonial militia’s weapon stockpile—and some believed that he also planned on arresting Adams and Hancock in the process.

Famously, a silversmith named Paul Revere rode out to Lexington that night, warning locals as he went. Revere arrived late at night and was able to give Hancock and Adams the warning, after which he continued to Concord. But on the way he was temporarily detained by the Brits, and after being released, he went back to make sure that Hancock and Adams had indeed escaped.

But to Revere's surprise, Hancock hadn't left. Instead, he loudly insisted on staying put and fighting alongside the militiamen. “If I had my musket,” he said, “I would never turn my back on these troops.” Eventually, Revere and Adams convinced him to flee, arguing that the British would score a huge moral victory by jailing such an influential patriot. This wasn’t an easy sell. As eyewitness Dorothy Quincy—Hancock’s fiancée—noted, “it was not until break of day that Mr. H. could be persuaded.”

5. HIS IS, BY FAR, THE BIGGEST SIGNATURE ON THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

At the time, Hancock was acting President of the Second Continental Congress. As such, he was first to sign Thomas Jefferson’s monumental declaration in July 1776. The first printed copies bear only Hancock’s signature and that of Secretary Charles Thompson. These typeset documents were mailed out to the colonies before an identical, handwritten version was created. Eventually, this copy—now on display at the National Archive—acquired 56 signatures, most of which were jotted down on August 2.

You’ll notice immediately that Hancock’s signature dwarfs the competition. The vast majority take up somewhere between one and 2.5 square inches. At a whopping 6.1 square inches, however, Hancock’s signature is the biggest by far. Why did he upstage everyone else? Historians aren’t sure.

Nevertheless, we can at least dispel one common myth about the subject. Popular rumor holds that when Hancock left his extra-large signature, he defiantly shouted “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” But there’s no confirmed record of him ever actually saying this.

6. HE WAS THE FIRST ELECTED GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Hancock won the Bay State’s highest office in 1780, claiming more than 90 percent of the vote. He went on to earn five one-year terms before unexpectedly resigning in 1785. Following Shay’s Rebellion, Hancock re-entered the ring, winning yet another gubernatorial race. This time, he held the job he until died in 1793 at age 56.

7. IN 1789, HANCOCK WAS A PRESIDENTIAL “ALSO RAN.”

American politics will probably never see another landslide of this magnitude. In the nation’s first presidential election, beloved war hero George Washington prevailed with a showing for the ages. By constitutional law, each elector was granted two votes. Every single participant cast at least one of these for the General. At day’s end, Washington secured 69 total votes. By comparison, second-place-finisher John Adams nabbed a meager 34. Nobody else even broke single digits—John Jay took home nine, Robert Harrison and John Rutledge each received six, Hancock claimed four, George Clinton netted three, and two apiece went to Samuel Huntington and John Milton. As for the remaining three votes, they were divvied up between as many candidates.

8. HE AND SAMUEL ADAMS HAD A HUGE FALLING OUT.

Early on, Adams, a politician and brewer, saw Hancock as an impressive protégé. Here was a powerful, ambitious fellow upon whom several hundred families were dependent for their livelihoods. In 1766, Adams used his influence to help win the businessman a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. There, Hancock quickly established himself as one of Britain’s most vocal detractors in the colony.

When the hated Stamp Act was repealed on March 20, 1766, Hancock received much of the credit. In short order, Adams and his supporters—whom he called the “Sons of Liberty”—rushed en masse to their hero’s home. Elated, Hancock surprised the crowd with 125 gallons of free Madeira wine.

Sadly, the once warm Adams-Hancock partnership soon chilled. After George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the continental army in 1775, Hancock—who had longed for the job—suspected that Adams had helped tip the scales against him. At the time, Hancock was acting as President of the Second Continental Congress. Upon stepping down from that post, Adams and the rest of the Massachusetts delegation infuriated him by voting against a resolution that would thank Hancock for his service. Things soured still further once Hancock became governor of his home state—and Adams routinely backed his opponents.

Nevertheless, the estranged pair did come together to endorse the new U.S. Constitution in 1787. Furthermore, when Hancock died, it was Lieutenant Governor Adams who took over the gubernatorial position. By order of his friend-turned-foe, the day of Hancock’s burial was solemnly observed as a state holiday.

9. HE WAGED A DECADES-LONG WAR WITH GOUT.

Hancock developed the illness when he was 36. As years went by, his limbs were severely handicapped by the condition—when President Washington visited the Bay State in 1789, the 53-year-old governor had to be carried out to greet him.

10. BOSTON’S TALLEST TOWER WAS NAMED IN HIS HONOR.

This 60-story, glass-sided structure also happens to be the tallest building in all of New England. The establishment was created by John Hancock Financial Services—a company named after the legendary patriot. Built in 1976, the establishment had been officially called “John Hancock Tower” until the company's lease ran out last July. Since then, it’s been re-branded as 200 Clarendon, though many Bostonians persist in using the older name. 

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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