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7 Teenagers Who Were Elected Mayor

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You might have to be 35 to run for president, but you can become mayor of a town much, much sooner. Qualifications for the job vary depending on the size of the city and its need, but some ambitious teenagers have stepped up in recent decades and, thanks to local elections, been voted into office. While their peers were worrying about things like homecoming dances and football games, these kids were attending local board meetings and planning for their constituents' future. Here's a look at seven of the youngest mayors in United States history.

1. Michael Sessions

Sessions used a whopping $700 war chest he saved from a summer job to fund his campaign for Hillsdale, Michigan, mayor in 2005. Since he was too young to qualify for the election, a write-in candidacy was his only option. And it paid off. It didn't come easy, either, as the election was a real nailbiter, but Sessions prevailed. One voter just listed "the 18-year-old running for mayor" on his ballot, a vote that the local officials determined should rightfully go to Sessions. "I've always been interested in politics," Sessions, then 18, told USA Today. He only served one term, though, stepping aside in 2009.

2. Jeremy Minnier

The small town of Aredale, Iowa (population: 74) chose Jeremy Minnier, 18, as its newest mayor in 2011.

Politics might just be in Jeremy's blood -- his father, Richard, also served as Aredale mayor. On Jeremy's list of priorities: adding flowers to the downtown area, fixing the city septic system, and finding better sources for water. During his reign, Minnier has tried to beautify the town to make it more attractive to visitors. Still, Jeremy said that he'll walk away from public office sometime: “I don’t have a lot of interest in becoming a big politician." He does, however, plan to continue to live nearby; Iowa will always be his first love, he said.

3. Jason Nastke

In 1999, Nastke earned his spot governing over Valatie, New York, after demonstrating stellar leadership qualities at an area high school. He was a representative in his class government, a member of the honor society, and was studying business finance at a local community college. The mayoral position was unmanned, so Nastke figured why not give it a go. He served for four years, then left politics to go into real estate, operating his own business. Yet he found his way back to local elections in 2010, when Nastke was appointed Columbia County Election Commissioner. In that capacity, he policed for voter fraud and other rule-breaking. Even with the new position, he made sure to tell a reporter that he has "no interest in running for office again.”

4. Sam Juhl

Juhl was elected into Roland, Iowa, office at 18 years of age in 2005, and reelected two years later. He opted not to seek a third term. Juhl said that he ran after it appeared that nobody else wanted the mayoral position; Juhl already had dreams of filling public office someday, but the vacancy only sped his plans along. "While experience is valuable, it's not always necessary," he told NPR in 2008. "I mean, the fact that I'm younger doesn't mean that I might not have a new perspective to offer to something."

5. Christopher Seeley

He has one of the coolest titles in his Twitter description of any recent college grad: "Mayor." But when Seeley had a head-on collision with adversity, it wasn't a result of his inexperienced 18 years of age in 2005; it was all in the name of the job. As mayor of Linesville, Pennsylvania, he knew he'd run into opposition. He resigned briefly in 2010, citing “hostility” from the borough government, saying that the town “is being run more in an almost military fashion as opposed to how good open government should be run.” Somehow Seeley survived the upheaval, and remains in power to this day.

6. Kyle Corbin

Union, Oregon, got an 18-year-old leader in 2006 when Corbin was elected local mayor. Tired of seeing his city councilors and previous mayors bickering and then ultimately resigning, Corbin decided to throw his hat into the ring. "There was even an incident where somebody threw a punch at a City Council meeting," Corbin said. His write-in campaign was built around the subject of unity, and he hoped to foster a new era in Union politics. Alas, his local fame was short-lived as Corbin decided not to seek a second term. His legacy, however, lives on among locals.

7. Jeff Dunkel

Of all the 18-year-olds who got elected to office, Dunkel may have had the most success. In charge of Mount Carbon, Pennsylvania, he's served with distinction since 2001. His story all began inside an American government class, where Dunkel began to seriously think about his town's 100 residents. Frustrated by the inefficiency he recognized at local council meetings, Dunkel wanted to see some change. To get there, though, Dunkel needed permission from his mother to miss out on some of his chores. "I know he's been so busy with his campaign," she said, "so if things didn't get done right away I wasn't busting on him." Now it's his constituents who are knocking on his door.

See Also: This guy.

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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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