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21 Things You Didn't Know About the 21st President

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Sometimes, to amuse myself, I try to list all of the United States Presidents by memory. (What... you don’t do that?) I always forget poor Chester A. Arthur, which is a shame, because he was actually a rather interesting fellow. He was born on this date in 1829, so here are 21 facts that will help you remember the 21st president. And if you have the overwhelming urge to try to rattle off all of the POTUSes by memory now, boy, are you in luck.

1. Barack Obama wasn’t the first to face accusations that he wasn’t a natural-born citizen. Because his father lived in Ireland and Canada before he was born, and his parents moved around within the States quite a bit after he was born, Arthur’s detractors tried to convince the public that he was ineligible for the presidency. Despite rumors that he a) lived in Ireland until he was 14 or b) was born in Canada, Arthur was actually born in Vermont.

2. He was named for the doctor who delivered him - Chester Abell. His middle name came from his paternal grandfather, but according to some sources...

3. ...Chester chose to pronounce his middle name with an emphasis on the second syllable: AlAN.

4. His dad was a clergyman.

5. When Chet attended Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., he helped throw the school bell into the Erie Canal as a prank.

6. Another questionable deed during his time at college: he and some like-minded friends got into a brawl with James K. Polk supporters. The guy was a regular Bluto, wasn’t he?

7. After graduating, he took a job as the principal at the North Pownal Academy in Vermont, which was meeting in the basement of his father’s church at the time.Oddly, James A. Garfield taught penmanship there three years later. By the time Garfield started showing off his handwriting, though, Arthur had already moved on.

8. A 24-year-old Arthur, then a junior partner at Culver, Parker and Arthur law firm, successfully represented Lizzie Jennings, who was forcibly removed from a streetcar in 1854 because of her skin color. The day after a jury awarded Jennings $225.00 in damages, the Third Avenue Railway Company had its streetcars desegregated.

9. Arthur was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease not long after he became president. To try to improve his failing health, he took a trip to Yellowstone National Park with Robert Todd Lincoln (among others - that’s the whole posse in the picture).

10. He was a member of the ultra exclusive Ristigouche Salmon Club.

11. Pre-POTUS, it wouldn’t have been unusual to see Arthur sporting a jacket that would be right at home at Augusta National. He was prone to wearing a green coat to show his support for the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization.

12. He was once the president of the New York Arcade Railway Company.

13. His first son died suddenly when he was only three years old. Two more children - Chester Alan Jr., and Ellen - survived into adulthood.

14. His wife died of pneumonia the year before he became president. Arthur honored her by having flowers placed in front of her portrait at the White House every single day.

15. Controversy seemed to follow Arthur. When his predecessor’s assassin celebrated success by shouting, “I’m a Stalwart of the Stalwarts, Arthur is president now!”, it sparked talk that maybe Arthur’s people had actually hired the assassin themselves. Garfield lingered for months after he was shot; Arthur kept a low profile to avoid further suspicion.

16. He was in the habit of staying up until at least 2 a.m. every night.

17. He may have held the first-ever White House yard sale. But instead of finding stained Tupperware and ratty stuffed animals on the cheap, bargain hunters would have found an old pair of Abraham Lincoln’s pants and one of John Quincy Adams’ hats. Arthur practically sold anything in the White House that wasn’t nailed down (24 wagon loads worth of stuff) to raise money for new furniture.

18. And he needed that money, because Arthur then hired Louis Comfort Tiffany to redecorate and furnish the White House.

19. He had no vice president for his entire four-year term.

20. He was the first president to have a personal valet, probably due in part to the next fact.

21. Arthur owned at least 80 pairs of pants, which may not be a lot by today’s presidential standards, it was quite the extravagance back then.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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