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7 College Cheating Scandals

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While Zack Morris and Mike Seaver may have made cheating look hilarious, there can be pretty sweeping repercussions. Just look at these epic college cheating scandals.

1. MBA Students Network a Bit Too Much

Getting to know your classmates and learning how to work together is a huge part of business school. In 2007, though, 34 first-year MBA students at Duke took things a bit too far. When faced with a take-home open-book exam they were supposed to work on individually, the students decided to instead collaborate on the test. Of course, when that many people work on a test together, the answers are going to be suspiciously similar, and the professor quickly sniffed out the trickery. After the dust settled, 34 students "“ nearly 10% of Duke's first-year class "“ found themselves expelled, suspended, or failed for the unauthorized group work.

2. Maryland Professors Put the Sting on Cheaters

In 2004, several professors at the University of Maryland's business school heard rumblings that students had cheated on a midterm, but they couldn't really prove anything. To fight back, though, they decided to set up a sting operation for the final exam. Before the test, they posted an "answer key" that consisted of nothing but wrong answers on their website. Any student who used his cell phone or PDA to access the answer key during the exam would think they had struck cheating gold, when in actuality they were just giving themselves away as cheaters. The professors' plan worked, and 12 of the 400 students in the class flunked after turning in papers that were obviously copied from the bogus answer key.

3. Naval Academy Students Go Overboard

1994 was not a banner year for the United States Naval Academy; that spring, 134 seniors were involved in a cheating scandal that caused such a stir it became national news. Somehow, a student obtained a copy of an electrical engineering exam early and started distributing copies of it for as much as $50 a pop. Students either practiced their answers before the exam or snuck in notes of the relevant formulas. After a lengthy investigation, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton expelled 24 midshipmen, including several members of the football team, and disciplined 62 others for honor code violations.

4. Henry Ford II Lacks the Drive to Write His Thesis

When automotive heir Henry Ford II attended Yale in the 1930s, he must not have been the world's greatest student. When he had to write a thesis on the novels of Thomas Hardy, he did what any enterprising car mogul would do: he outsourced the assignment to another student in exchange for cash. According to a possibly apocryphal story that Ford later denied, the jig was up when the professor opened up the paper and the other student's bill for writing the essay fell out. With such damning evidence against him, Ford admitted he cheated and never graduated from Yale.

5. Don't Mess With the Honor Code

Lots of colleges make students pledge that they will follow some sort of honor code, and don't think the schools don't mean it. In 2001, the University of Virginia, a school with a longstanding honor code, had to drop the hammer on an absurdly large cheating racket. Professor Louis A. Bloomfield realized that students in his popular "How Things Work" introductory physics class had been turning in identical 1,500-word papers over the course of the previous five semesters. Bloomfield hadn't noticed because the class was so large; each semester's roster had between 300 and 500 students on it.

After running every paper he'd received through a computer program to look for identical essays, Bloomfield realized that as many as 158 students may have plagiarized their papers. The school aggressively prosecuted the plagiarizers under the honor code and eventually expelled 45 of them. Three other students got an even worse fate; since they'd already graduated, UVA revoked their degrees.

6. No Online Help for the GMAT

Getting a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test is a key step to getting into a top MBA program, and since the admissions market is so tight, it's only natural that students would try to find as much test prep material as they could. Last summer, though, thousands of students who had perused the test site ScoreTop got a rather nasty surprise. The site had been posting "live" GMAT questions with answers, which meant that students could potentially know the answers to a few of their test questions before the exam even began.

At first, all 6,000 of the site's subscribers were worried their GMAT scores might be invalidated, but in the end only 72 students had their scores cancelled after investigators learned they had accessed the live questions. These students were allowed to immediately retake the GMAT. Twelve other students weren't so lucky, though; these were the students who had actually memorized the questions and posted them on the site. Test administrators also cancelled their scores, but they weren't allowed to retake the GMAT for another three years, which put a pretty large damper on their MBA dreams.

7. Dental School Bites Down on Cheaters

Dentists seem like a rather honest, unassuming sort, right? Apparently not at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. A scandal rocked the school in 2007 when second-year dental students figured out a way to hack into the computer system that held their exams. Once inside, students could study the X-rays on which they were going to be tested, so when the exam rolled around, they already knew all the answers. The amazing thing about this scandal wasn't that it happened, but its scope; nearly half of the second-year class had some hand in it. At the end of the investigation, nine students were expelled, 16 more were suspended, and another 21 received letters of reprimand.

Strangely, that might not even be the most troubling dental school cheating scandal of the last few years. In the spring of 2006, 18 students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey got caught in a cheating ring right before they graduated. Their scam involved the clinical credits each student needed to graduate; to get their degree, each student had to perform X number of root canals, Y number of fillings, etc. Instead of earning all of these credits the honest way, students swapped and sold their credits to each other.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.