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11 Tips for That Benjamin Harrison Birthday Bash You're Probably Planning

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If you’re looking for an excuse to host an impromptu Monday get-together, why not throw a birthday bash for America's last bearded president? Today happens to be Benjamin Harrison’s 179th. Here are 11 party-planning tips that’ll help you set the scene for an epic celebration.

1. Leave the Lights On

It is imperative that your rave be well-lit. Benjamin Harrison was the first president to have electricity installed in the White House. He was so afraid of being electrocuted that he refused to touch the light switches. Consequently, he and his wife often left the lights on all night long. So if you want to rage Harrison-style, don’t expect to do it in the dark.

2. Rent a Goat!

Harrison kept a pet goat named Old Whiskers who would often pull the president's grandchildren around the White House lawn in a cart.

One day, Old Whiskers managed to slip through the White House gates and made a break for it, pulling the kids behind him. Harrison chased them down Pennsylvania Avenue, frantically waving his cane as he struggled to hold on to his top hat. Passersby eventually apprehended the rogue goat when they saw the president feverishly running after him. We suggest you unveil your Capricorn early to establish an Animal (White) House vibe early on.

3. Ice, Ice Baby!

Harrison wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. In fact, he was known as “the human iceberg” – and it wasn’t exactly a term of endearment. Theodore Roosevelt once called Harrison “a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.” To honor His Frigidness, prepare a party menu that includes plenty of chilled items. Serve up ice cream, ice pops, frozen margaritas, Patron on the rocks – anything below 32 degrees. Maybe even include a little Vanilla Ice or Ice Cube on your party playlist. We hear Harrison was a big fan of (18)90’s rap. (Okay, that’s probably not true.)

4. Spend it Up . . .

If you’re throwing a party for Benjamin Harrison, get ready to part with some Benjamin Franklins. Harrison’s was the first administration to appropriate more than $1 billion in Congressional spending, and we’ve never looked back. While Harrison spent the money on internal improvements, naval expansion, subsidies for steamship lines, and veterans’ pensions, we suggest that you budget your bash differently.

5. . . . But Not at Walmart

If Harrison were alive today, we’re betting he wouldn’t be buying his party supplies at America’s superstore. During his presidency, Harrison supported the landmark Sherman Antitrust Act, the first bill that ever attempted to curb the power of America's corporate giants. Harrison was also a protectionist who favored high tariffs – meaning that businesses who wanted to import products from other countries had to pay major taxes. Harrison believed that consumers should buy American-made products at fair prices. He once said, “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

6. Be Chill With Big Love

When it comes to a Benjamin Harrison rager, anything goes. Harrison wasn’t exactly your everyday swinger, but he did give his polygamist friends a free pass. In 1893, he issued a proclamation pardoning Mormons who had been in polygamous marriages on the condition that they stick to monogamy from then on. And though he may have appeared supremely traditional, Harrison had his fair share of romantic drama. After Harrison’s first wife Caroline passed away, he married her niece Mary – a widow nearly thirty years his junior.

7. VIP Treatment for the Bearded

Harrison was, regretfully, America’s last bearded president. To honor him right, give your bewhiskered guests special treatment. Rope off a reserved VIP section that only guests with beards can enter. Make sure that they get all sorts of presidential perks – like permission to eat all the chocolate out of the Neapolitan ice cream without consequence.

8. Serve Cleveland Sandwiches as Hors d’Oeuvres

Harrison’s presidency was sandwiched between Grover Cleveland’s two nonconsecutive terms. In 1888, Harrison lost the popular vote to Cleveland by a narrow margin, but won the Electoral College. In 1892, however, Harrison lost to Cleveland in a landslide – largely because his tariff policies were so unpopular. Scrumptious Cleveland sandwich hors d’oeuvres might consist of ice cream to represent the notoriously frigid Harrison, sandwiched between two soft, buttery cookies to symbolize the generously proportioned Cleveland.

9. Show the 700 Club

Turning on a TV or two can help create a party-appropriate ambiance. While your run-of-the mill nightclub probably shows music videos or sports games, we suggest a totally original program to really get the party started: The 700 Club. Televangelist Pat Robertson is a relative of the Harrison clan. Harrison was a born-again Christian himself, and his faith formed the sense of duty that underlaid his political activities. Harrison’s rhetoric reflected civil religious themes, advocating equal opportunity.

10. Steal the Stage

Make sure you prepare a few eloquent words to appease the mid-party calls for a speech. After all, it’s not a real Ben Harrison bash without a great speech or five. Harrison was known as an outstanding and prolific orator; he once made 140 different speeches in one month. That’s 4.67 distinct addresses per day! And he came by his love of public speaking honestly. Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, gave the longest inaugural address on record; it lasted nearly two hours and was delivered outside in a snowstorm. (Grandpa Wills died of pneumonia about a month into his term, which many people attributed to his record-breaking address.) We suggest that you make your toast a little shorter, and consider holding it indoors just in case.

11. Ignore the Party Poopers

Harrison certainly wasn’t popular with everyone. In fact, some scholars argue that his economic policies contributed to the Panic of 1893 shortly after he left office. Although he’s not traditionally regarded as one of our most distinguished chief executives, recent historians have come to recognize the important achievements of the Harrison administration. Harrison helped usher the United States into a new epoch of international trade, convened the first Pan-American conference, championed for black citizens’ voting rights, admitted six states into the Union, and took the first step toward curbing the power of corporate giants – all while maintaining impeccably groomed facial hair. So if partygoers aren’t enjoying your awesome rager, give them some time (a hundred years or so) to get into the mood.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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