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9 Tips for Planning a William Taft Birthday Bash

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Looking for a way to liven up your Saturday night? Here’s a complete idiot’s guide to throwing a 155th birthday bash for America’s largest-and-in-chargest commander-in-chief: the great William Howard Taft.

1. The Food

Almonds, almonds, and more almonds. Smokehouse, cinnamon, vinegar, chocolate – any flavor under the sun. Big Lub, as he was fondly known, couldn’t get enough of these delectable little nuts. In fact, he was known to consume a pound in a single sitting (in case you were wondering, that’s about 2640 calories). Perhaps all that noshing helped him pack 332 pounds onto his 6’2” frame. But being a big dude had its advantages: Taft was Yale’s intramural heavyweight wrestling champion.

2. The Décor

Taft is the only president to have ever served as Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. He is also the only president to have ever gotten stuck in a bathtub. Guess which distinction people remember more? After this embarrassing incident, Taft had a super-sized tub installed in the White House – one big enough to fit four normal-sized men. If you’re throwing a true-to-form Taft bash, try swapping out your sofas for a few colossal tubs. This type of seating affords a more intimate environment and the opportunity to take a bunch of awkward Facebook photos.

3. The Guest List

Invite everyone you know – as long as they’re not bald. Taft’s wife Nellie was inexplicably creeped out by bald men. She declared that all waiters must have hair and banned all bald-headed butlers from the dining room. At your bash, strive to keep your BQ (baldness quotient) as low as possible. But if Uncle Joe absolutely insists on coming, hand him a toupee at the door.

4. The Dress Code

Make your party a formal affair and require guests to wear dress robes. Taft never felt more comfortable than when he was donning his (very) big, black Chief Justice uniform. Even when he was president, all the man ever wanted was a seat on the Supreme Court. While serving as chief executive, Taft lamented, “If I were now presiding on the Supreme Court, I should be the happiest man alive.” Following four unhappy years in the Oval Office, Taft finally got his wish in 1921, when Warren G. Harding appointed him Chief Justice. He served for over 8 years and was immensely popular among political comrades – more popular than he’d ever been as president.

5. The Drinks

Baileys Irish Cream, White Russians, or plain old vanilla milkshakes. Taft is the last president to have kept a cow on the White House lawn – a fine Holstein by the name of Pauline Wayne. A gift from Wisconsin Senator Walter Stephenson, the beloved Pauline supplied fresh milk for the entire Taft family for two years. After Taft left office, he shipped Pauline back to Stephenson’s farm, where he proclaimed she would “add dignity to his herd.” Follow his lead, and add some dignity to your bash with creamy, dairy-based cocktails.

6. The VIPs

Taft was the last president to sport a mustache. In fact, he was the last president to have any kind of facial hair while in office. Similar to last month’s Benjamin Harrison bash, have a special section reserved for mustachioed guests. These VIPs get all sorts of special treatment – plush bathrobes, free slippers, and dibs on the corner piece of birthday cake.

7. The Entertainment

Nothing livens up a party like an All-American game of baseball. Taft loved the sport. In fact, he was the first president to throw the opening pitch for the first game of the season during a 1910 game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics. The presidential tradition continues today.

8. The Music

Taft liked to sleep . . . a lot. In fact, some historians suspect that he may have been narcoleptic. To wake him from his desk whenever he dozed off, Nellie would blast Enrique Caruso – a famous Italian tenor. Make sure your party playlist includes all the Caruso classics: “Vesti la giubba,” “Mi par d’udir ancora,” and “O Sole Mio (remix ft. Ludacris).”

9. The Rules

Before things get too wild, it’s important to lay down the law. No politics permitted. Taft described the 1907 presidential campaign as "one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life." And once in office, Taft declared that he didn’t give a “tinkers damn” about how his decisions would affect his political prospects. Take a cue from Big Bill and put a moratorium on politics for the evening. Trust us – your guests will thank you.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]