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Tips from George Washington's Self-Help Manual

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Every action in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.

With that mild but firm assertion begins a little book of self-improvement that George Washington copied down as a teenager. There followed 109 rules, and by the time Washington had written them all into his notebook "“- in what was probably the equivalent of a homework assignment -- he had taken them to heart, and he attempted to follow them for the rest of his life.

The pamphlet was called "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" "“- a shorter title than many of today's self-help guides. It was composed by French Jesuits in 1595, and later rendered into English. It's unclear how the publication reached America, but its effect on Washington's character and behavior were profound, according to historian Richard Brookhiser, who published an annotated edition of "Rules of Civility."

brookhiser_GW.jpg Our age is not unique in its hunger for self-improvement. "Eighteenth-century Americans were eager for good advice, especially advice concerning their conduct," Brookhiser wrote in the introduction.

But you'll find none of the self-affirming "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" among Washington's 110 precepts. Instead, there are reminders to respect the personal space of others, and that one should take pains not to embarrass another. The rules spell out the delicate dance of how to be a well-mannered guest and host and, in the class-conscious society of Washington's day, how properly to behave in the presence of one's superiors and inferiors.

The value of many of the rules is still obvious. Others are amusing because conditions of life are so changed. All are worth considering. So, with concern for your self-improvement on this Presidents' Day Weekend, here are 14 more:

1. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

2. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.

3. Kill no vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks etc., in the sight of others. If you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it, if it be upon the clothes of your companions put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes return thanks to him who puts it off.

4. Read no letters, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

5. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

6. Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

7. To one that is your equal, or not much inferior, you are to give the chief place in your lodging, and he who "˜tis offered ought at the first to refuse it, but at the second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.

8. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

9. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for "˜tis a sign of tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.

10. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

11. Be apt not to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard name not your author. Always a secret discover not.

12. In company of those of higher quality than you, speak not till you are ask'd a question, then stand upright, put off your hat, and answer in few words.

13. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.

14. Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals. Feed not with greediness. Eat your bread with a knife (i.e. cut it into small pieces), lean not on the table, neither find fault with what you eat.

David Holzel
, editor of The Jewish Angle ezine, is an occasional contributor to

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]