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Impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Harper's Weekly, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Why Was Andrew Johnson Impeached?

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Impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. Harper's Weekly, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are a lot of presidential firsts out there. Some are rather charming, like the first president to enjoy electricity in the White House (Benjamin Harrison, who was scared to touch the light switch) and the first to ride in a car (William McKinley). Then there are the not-so-quaint trendsetters, like Andrew Johnson—the first to be impeached.

Johnson ascended to the presidency after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. A former senator from Tennessee, he was in favor of going easy on the states that had seceded from the Union during the Civil War. Johnson gave almost total amnesty to former Confederates, supported bringing the seceded states back to the Union quickly and easily, and approved local Southern governments that passed harshly restrictive "Black Codes." Though it may seem like Johnson was favoring the Southern states due to his own heritage, in reality, he was largely following Lincoln’s plans.

In addition to being unhappy with this Reconstruction program, the “Radical Republican” majority in Congress—who were devoted to ensuring the rights of freed slaves—worried that Johnson would replace Lincoln’s cabinet with officials who would support his views. To prevent this, they passed the Tenure of Office Act, which prevented the president from firing Senate-confirmed officials without Senate approval. (The president could suspend a cabinet member while the Senate was in recess, but when the Senate reconvened, they had to sanction the removal. If they didn’t, the cabinet member was reinstated.)

Believing the Tenure of Office Act to be unconstitutional, Johnson started testing the waters. In 1867, while Congress was out of session, he suspended Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (the only Cabinet member to support the Radical Republicans). Johnson appointed Ulysses S. Grant as interim replacement—a choice he thought would appease everyone. He was wrong. The Senate didn’t sanction Stanton’s removal, returning him to the position of Secretary of War. In retaliation, Johnson formally removed Stanton and replaced him again, this time with Adjutant-General Lorenzo Thomas.

As you might suspect, this didn’t fly. Stanton refused to go, actually barricading himself in his office. On February 24, 1868, Congress initiated Johnson's impeachment process in the House, citing the president’s blatant disregard for the Tenure of Office Act, among other things. But removing a president from office requires several steps: a formal accusation from the House (the impeachment) followed by a trial and conviction from the Senate. In the end, Johnson escaped by the skin of his teeth: One more vote in the Senate and he would have been ousted.

Even though he made it through the trial, Johnson found himself booted from the White House in the months to come anyway—an unpopular incumbent, he didn’t even win the Democratic party’s nomination that year (although he had been elected with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson sought reelection as a Democrat). Instead, the Democrats nominated former governor of New York Horatio Seymour, who lost to Republican Ulysses S. Grant in the general election by a landslide.

History is actually on Johnson’s side, at least in one sense. The Tenure of Office Act was soon repealed, and ruling on a related case in 1926, the Supreme Court declared that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional—just like Johnson claimed.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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