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9 Presidential Candidates Who Weren't Great Students

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© Ted Soqui/Corbis

The Huffington Post recently released a copy of Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry’s college transcript from Texas A&M. The academic picture wasn’t pretty. Perry struggled in some familiar classes (an F in organic chemistry, a D in economics) and some bizarre ones (a C in gym, a D in something the transcript labeled only as “Meats").

Are Perry’s low college marks all that astonishing for a high-profile politician? Apparently not. Let’s take a look at a few other big names who didn’t light the academic world on fire.

1. Al Gore
Gore’s the brainiest politician around, right? Possibly, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his Harvard transcript. Gore apparently spent quite a bit of time loafing during his sophomore year, and some of his grades weren't very good: a D, a C-minus, two C’s, two C-pluses, and a B-minus, marks that put him in the lowest fifth of his class. Strangely enough, the D came in a class that sounds like it would be right in Gore’s wheelhouse: Natural Sciences 6 (Man’s Place in Nature).

2. George W. Bush
Gore’s foe in the 2000 presidential election takes a lot of ribbing for his intellect, but his college grades at Yale were more mediocre than embarrassing. Through his first three years at Yale, Bush’s grades averaged out to 77 on a 100-point scale. He only received one D during his college career, in an astronomy course.

3. John Kerry

Like Bush, Kerry attended Yale. And he had some really rotten grades, particularly during his freshman year. As a Yale frosh, Kerry rang up D’s in geology, two history classes, and – strangely enough for a future Senator – political science. While Kerry’s 2004 campaign presented him as a more cerebral alternative to Bush, the two men’s grades at Yale were roughly equivalent.

4. Dan Quayle
Quayle’s academic struggles didn’t start with his infamously ill-fated attempt to spell “potato.” According to a 1988 Cleveland Plain Dealer story, he wasn’t a bang-up student at DePauw University, either. Quayle’s grades were so lousy that he wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to earn admission into Indiana University’s law school, but he secured a spot thanks to an equal opportunity program. During the 1988 presidential campaign a Quayle spokesman explained that high marks were simply hard to come by at DePauw.

5. George H.W. Bush
When Quayle’s middling college grades became a story during the 1988 campaign, running mate George H.W. Bush defended his eventual VP and revealed a bit of his own classroom struggle. Bush joked, ''I refuse to release my high school transcript because I failed chemistry and I don't want anyone to know that.''

6. John McCain
McCain excelled at a lot of things during his time at the United States Naval Academy, including boxing. McCain’s classes knocked him out, though. His grades were so poor that in his graduating class of 899, he earned spot 894 in the rankings.

7. Joe Biden
By all accounts, Biden wasn’t the world’s greatest student, but he made up for his academic shortcomings with sheer likability. Biden ranked 506th out of 688 students in the University of Delaware’s class of 1965, but a professor still recommended him for law school “on grounds of personality and general promise.” The future VP didn’t exactly turn on the jets once he got to law school, either. He finished 76th in his class of 85 students at Syracuse, and admitted to plagiarism in his first year of law school. But again, a dean recommended him for a job on the basis of his “confidence,” “general physical appearance,” and “general speaking ability.”

8. Franklin Pierce
It’s not just modern politicians who goofed around in college. When Pierce attended Bowdoin College, he spent so much time hanging out with friends, including a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, that at one point he was ranked dead last in his class. He eventually found some motivation and worked his way up to fifth in his class.

9. Richard Nixon
Unlike the other names on this list, Nixon was actually an excellent student. After Whittier College, Nixon went on to Duke Law, where he graduated third in his class in 1937. He also served as president of the Duke Bar Association. But we're including him because his good grades didn't earn him much respect from his alma mater.

In 1954, a committee recommended that then-VP Nixon be given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and Nixon agreed to be the graduation speaker. However, after vociferous debate, a faculty panel voted down the recommendation, and Nixon bailed on the commencement address.

Over a quarter-century later, Duke President Terry Sanford pushed to build Nixon’s presidential library on campus, even meeting with Nixon himself to work out the details. However, a similar faculty committee killed the idea. The Nixon Library ended up in Yorba Linda, California.

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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]