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11 High School Dropouts Who Found Success Anyway

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Every year an alarming number of high school students decide to call it quits on their education. While many, if not most, live to regret the decision, quite a few dropouts have done pretty well for themselves. Here’s a look at 11 high school dropouts who went on to find great success. (Film and music are littered with precocious artists whose careers started to take off while they were still just teenagers, so we’ll save them for another day.)

1. Kemmons Wilson

You may not recognize Wilson’s name, but you may have spent a night under one of his roofs at the Holiday Inn chain he founded. Wilson was still a baby when his father died in 1913, and when his mother had financial trouble he left school to supplement her income. Wilson parlayed a movie popcorn concession into a pinball machine business that in turn became a Wurlitzer jukebox franchise until he jumped into the motel game. Wilson later quipped, “When you ain’t got not education, you just gotta use your brain.”

2. Dave Thomas

The affable Wendy’s founder dropped out of high school when he was 15 so he could work in a restaurant. Thomas regretted his decision and worried that he was setting a bad example by not having finished his education, so 45 years later he earned his GED from Coconut Creek High School in Florida. When he graduated in 1993, his classmates went way out on a limb and voted Thomas as Most Likely to Succeed.

3. Peter Jennings

The late anchorman dropped out of school after flunking the 10th grade. He later told Reader’s Digest, “I think it was pure boredom. I loved girls. I loved comic books. And for reasons I don't understand, I was pretty lazy.” He went to work as a bank teller and later jumped into broadcasting.

4. William Faulkner

Like Jennings, the great novelist dropped out of high school in his second year and went to work in a bank. Faulkner eventually resumed his schooling at the University of Mississippi, but he dropped out of college after just a year. He then spent two years as the university postmaster at Ole Miss, a job he lost. (Faulkner said of his canning, “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son-of-a-b---- who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.”)

5. Richard Branson

The “rebel billionaire” behind Virgin wasn’t as successful in the classroom as he’s been in business. Branson’s dyslexia caused him a great deal of trouble as a student, so when he was 16 he left school to go into business for himself. Now he’s got a net worth in the neighborhood of $4 billion.

6. Leon Uris

The author of Exodus earned renown for the painstaking research and detail he put into each of his novels, but Uris wasn’t doing any of his research with the aid of a high school diploma. Although Uris clearly had a gift for writing, it didn’t translate so well into his high school English classes; he failed the subject three times, which later led him to declare, “English and writing have little to do with each other.” When Uris was 17 he gave up high school for good to enlist in the Marine Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

7. James Naismith

The Canadian inventor of basketball had a pretty rough early life. Both of his parents died when he was just nine years old, so he went to work in a lumber camp to help support his siblings and the uncle who was raising them. By the time he was 15, Naismith decided he didn’t need any more schooling to bring home a buck, so he dropped out. After a few years of hard living and hard work, Naismith went back to high school when he was 20 and graduated in two years. He later went on to earn a medical degree and create a certain game that used a peach basket.

8 & 9. The Wright Brothers

Neither of the famous flyboys received their high school diplomas, though Wilbur was close. Orville dropped out of school in 1889 to start a printing business; Wilbur helped him build his first makeshift printer out of odd parts like a discarded tombstone and pieces from broken-down buggies. One of the brothers’ earliest clients went on to earn great acclaim for himself; Orville’s high school buddy poet Paul Laurence Dunbar published his first poems in the Wright brothers’ newspaper. [NOTE: The original version of this story mistakenly identified Orville as the older brother. Wilbur was born in 1867; Orville was born in 1871.]

10. Walt Disney

The cartoonist dropped out of high school when he was 16 to enlist for World War I. The American armed forces rejected him, though, and after a plan to enlist in the Canadian military fell through, Disney spent a brief period of time working for the post office. Eventually he made it to the European fighting as a member of the Red Cross Ambulance Corps, though.

11. John D. Rockefeller

By some calculations, Rockefeller was the richest man in history. He didn’t get around to finishing high school, though. By the age of 16, he was working as an assistant bookkeeper for a produce commission firm, and he quickly began amassing his giant oil fortune. Even though he dropped out of high school, Rockefeller had a keen appreciation for the virtues of education; a large chunk of his legendary philanthropic donations went to schools and universities.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]