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Ten Reasons why Teddy Roosevelt is the Coolest President Ever

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Last week, mental_floss asked for input on three possible covers for the upcoming magazine issue. The one featuring president Theodore Roosevelt was the favorite among commenters. I don't know which cover was selected, but it made me think of the many ways Roosevelt stands out in history. Here are just ten, in no particular order. One commenter mentioned that readers of this blog would not know who Teddy R. is. That would surprise me, but maybe this will help you know him a little better.

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1. At 42, he was the youngest person to become president, when President McKinley was assassinated (although not as young as this earlier picture would indicate-I just like the picture). He was also the first to succeed to the office after a president's death, andthen to later also win by election.

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2. His other jobs were quite varied: cattle rancher, deputy sheriff, historian, naturalist, explorer, author of 35 books, police commissioner, assistant Secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, war hero, and lawyer.

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3. He was a Rough Rider. In 1898, he resigned from the Department of the Navy and organized the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as the Rough Riders. Among other battles, he led the charge up San Juan Hillin the Spanish-American War.

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4. Roosevelt called his governing philosophy "Square Deal," meaning fair dealings between businesses, consumers, and workers. He opened 40 antitrust cases against corporations. He promoted safe handling regulations for food and drugs, fought against misleading advertising, and encouraged arbitration between businesses and unions.

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5. As the first conservationist president, he spearheaded the creation of the United States Forest Service, and established five new national parks. He was responsible for the start of the Wildlife Refuge system. During his administration, 42 million acreswere set aside as national forests, wildlife refuges, and areas of special interest (such as the Grand Canyon).

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6. The teddy bearwas named after Roosevelt, in response to a cartoon showing the president refusing to shoot a bear after it had been tied to a tree. He considered it unsportsmanlike.

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7. Roosevelt knew an opportunity when he saw it. The French had abandoned construction of the Panama Canal largely because of malaria and yellow fever. In 1904, Roosevelt contracted the U.S. to build the canal in return for control over the area. He dispatched surgeons and sanitation engineers to tackle the mosquito problem, then teams and heavy equipment to complete the canal, which opened in 1914.

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8. Then there's Mt. Rushmore. The father of our country, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Honest Abe, and Teddy. How cool is that?

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9. He was a trendsetter. Roosevelt's Wikipedia entry has a list of presidential firsts, including the first president to refer to the presidential mansion as the White House, host a black man at a White House dinner, appoint a Jewish person as a cabinet member, travel outside the United States while in office, and fly in an airplane. He was also the first American to ever win a Nobel Prize, for Peace in 1906.

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10. With the possible exceptions of our current leader and his immediate predecessor, he has the absolute best macros posted to LOL Presidents.

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As a bonus postscript, the president's son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.distinguished himself at the Normandy Invasion on D-Day and earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2001, President Roosevelt himself was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his service at the Battle of San Juan Hill, the only president to ever be so honored.

PS: Lots more cool things about TR are in the comment section!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
June 21, 2017
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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