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15 Famous People Who Used to Teach

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You never know what hidden talents your teachers might have. Just look at all of these famous former teachers.

1. Gene Simmons
The tongue-flicking bassist of Kiss taught sixth grade in Harlem before he became the world's most famous bass-playing demon. Simmons later revealed in interviews that his superiors canned him for replacing the works of Shakespeare with Spiderman comics, which he thought the students were more likely to actually read.

2. Alexander Graham Bell
The telephone pioneer got his start teaching Visible Speech at the Boston School for Deaf Mutes. He developed a bond with a student named Mabel Hubbard, and when she was 19 the two married.

3. Sting
Before he became a star with The Police, Sting taught English, music, and soccer at St. Catherine's Convent School. Sting later said of working at a convent school, "I was the only man on the faculty. In fact, I was the only teacher not in a habit."

4. Robert Frost
Robert Frost worked as a teacher to supplement the income from his fledgling literary career. He worked as both a farmer and teacher at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire. His students called him "the Hen Man" because the poet was afraid of chickens, and Frost allegedly had trouble remembering to milk the school's cows on time.

5. Lyndon Johnson
The man who would later become the 36th president got his start as a principal at the Mexican-American Welhausen School in Cotulla, Texas. He later finished his teaching degree and landed gigs teaching public speaking at Pearsall High School in Pearsall, Texas and Sam Houston High in Houston. The debate team he coached at Sam Houston lost the Texas state championship by a single point; Johnson supposedly had to vomit backstage before he could bring himself to congratulate the winners.

6. Art Garfunkel
We can't speak for Paul Simon, but at least half of Simon and Garfunkel was really, really good at math. Garfunkel nearly earned a doctorate in the subject and was teaching math at the Litchfield Preparatory School in Connecticut when "Bridge Over Troubled Water" soared to the top of the charts.

7. John Adams
The second President of the United States spent a few years working as a schoolteacher in Worcester, Massachusetts. Teaching didn't suit Adams, who thought his students were nothing more than a "large number of little runtlings, just capable of lisping A, B, C, and troubling the master." He eventually gave up the job to go to law school.

8. J.K. Rowling
The Harry Potter author worked as an English teacher in Portugal as she plotted out the early adventures of her young wizards.

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9. Mr. T
It was hard for Chicago students to be fools when it came to gym class in the mid-1970s. You'd pay attention if Mr. T told you to do jumping jacks, wouldn't you?

10. Sylvester Stallone
Did you know you were seeing a matchup of tough-guy teachers when you watched Rocky III? When Sly was attending the American College in Switzerland during the 1960s, he worked as a gym teacher to earn extra spending money.

11. Andy Griffith
Before he was a sheriff, before he was Matlock, Andy Griffith was a teacher. After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Griffith taught English at Goldsboro High School.

12. Billy Crystal
The comedian worked as a junior high substitute teacher on Long Island while he waited for his career to take off. Among the classes he subbed for: girls' gym, which must have been a great source of material.

13. Kris Kristofferson
The country star was a Rhodes Scholar who studied literature at Oxford before joining the Army and rising to the rank of captain. Toward the end of his tour of duty, Kristofferson took a job as an English teacher at West Point, but he decided against the professorship at the last minute. Instead of heading to New York, he resigned his commission and moved to Nashville in 1965.

14. Stephen King
Although he initially had to work in an industrial laundry after his college graduation, the horror master eventually found a teaching job that paid a cool $6,400 a year at the Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. King wrote Salem's Lot while living in a trailer and working this job during the day.

15. Sir William Golding
The author's experiences as a teacher helped inform the novel that made his career. He once allowed a class of boys to debate with complete freedom, and the classroom quickly devolved into such disorder that it inspired Golding to write Lord of the Flies.

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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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