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30 Bits of Wisdom for the Class of 2013

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YouTube/Butler

It’s graduation season, and that means platitudes are parading out the mouths of notable speakers everywhere. Every year, speakers spew the same old sayings: Never give up! Embrace failure! Be passionate! Here’s a look at speakers who said things a little differently this year.

1. John Green (Author/Host of mental_floss on YouTube): Butler University

“Try not to worry too much about what you are going to do with your life. You are already doing what you are going to do with your life, and judging by the fact that you are wearing a gown, you’re doing pretty well. That’s not a sentence you hear much in life.”

2. Eric Idle (Comedian): Whitman College

“Your life is precious. You've only got one. Don't waste it on bad relationships, on bad marriages, on bad jobs, on bad people. Waste it wisely on what you want to do. But if you're still playing beer pong five years from now, you may be on the wrong track.”

3. Sharyn Alfonsi (Journalist): University of Mississippi, Meek School of Journalism

“Your life will have chapters, complete with crazy characters, villains and a plot you can’t even imagine as you sit here today. It’s a lot like a Scooby Doo episode.”

4. James Carville (Political Commentator): Hobart and William Smith Colleges

“You’re leaving here, and I can sit here and tell you all the vapid bull that comes out of the spring air in Upstate New York about being un-tethered, and drifting out on the sea of life, and plan your work and work your plan and all of that SPAT! You’re getting ready to go get knocked down. That’s what’s going to happen. Everybody wants to be a success but no one wants to stop and understand what it takes to succeed.”

5. Dick Costolo (CEO, Twitter): University of Michigan

“When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet in our pants. We didn’t have the Internet NOT in our pants. That’s how bad it was.”

6. Steven Colbert (Comedian): University of Virginia, Valediction Ceremonies

“Don’t worry if we don’t approve of your choices. In our benign self-absorption, I believe we have given you a gift. A particular form of independence because you do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese.”

7. Anne-Marie Slaughter (Policy Analyst): Lafayette College

“In the end, no matter how much you love your work, your work will not love you back.”

8. Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist): Rice University

“Your diploma is really not a ticket to show off what you know. You know what it really is? It’s permission to admit to yourself how much you still have yet to learn.”

9. Robert Kraft (Owner, New England Patriots): Suffolk University

“My advice is: Don’t follow the advice of others. I am not suggesting that you ignore advice, but just don’t let your advisers make decisions for you ... And years from now, or even later today, when someone asks you ‘What advice were you given on your commencement day?’ and you respond, ‘I don't know, I wasn’t listening,’ well then I will know you were paying attention.”

10. Arianna Huffington (President, Huffington Post): Smith College

“I beg you: don’t buy society’s definition of success. Because it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working for women, it's not working for men, it's not working for polar bears, it's not working for the cicadas that are apparently about to emerge and swarm us. It’s only truly working for those who make pharmaceuticals for stress, sleeplessness and high blood pressure.”

11. Steven Chu (Former Secretary of Energy): University of Rochester

“Your biggest failure will happen if you go through life and never fail, because you’ll never know what you could have done.”

12. Annie Lennox (Singer-Songwriter): Berklee College of Music

“It’s important to acknowledge the value and power of unorthodoxy.”

13. Joss Whedon (Writer/Director): Wesleyan University

“If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.”

14. Steve Wozniak (Co-founder, Apple): University of California, Berkeley

“H = F3: Happiness equals food, fun, and friends ... I said this once at my high school, and the kids started laughing. I had to admit there might be a fourth 'F.’”

15. Jonathan Safran Foer (Author): Middlebury College

“Each step forward in technological communication has made things more convenient. But each step has also made it easier, just a little bit easier, to avoid the emotional work of being present. To write ‘LOL’ rather than to actually laugh out loud; to send a crying emoji rather than actually crying; to convey information rather than humanity. It’s never been easier to say nothing.”

16. Melinda Gates (Philanthropist): Duke University

“The people who say technology has disconnected you from others are wrong. So are the people who say technology automatically connects you to others. Technology is just a tool. It's a powerful tool, but it's just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It's not a tool. It's not a means to an end. It is the end.”

17. Julie Andrews (Actress): University of Colorado, Boulder

"Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can't stand, speak for those who can't speak, be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark.”

18. Duncan Niederauer (CEO, NYSE Euronext): Colgate University

“My advice to you is be afraid of old ideas, not new ideas.”

19. David McCullough (Historian): Lesley University

“Never underestimate what other people might know. Sometimes people who seem to be the least possible source of interesting information turn out to be the greatest source imaginable.”

20. Toni Morrison (Author/Poet): Vanderbilt University, Senior Day

“Money is the not-so-secret mistress of all our lives, and like all mistresses, you certainly know whether she has or not already seduced you.”

21. Jon Lovett (Television Writer): Pitzer College

“You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don't know that you don't know. Your parents are nodding. You've been annoying them for years. Why do you think they paid for college? So that you might finally, at long last, annoy someone else. And now your professors are nodding.”

22. Claude Steele (Social Psychologist): Tufts University

“In setting your life course, put the ‘wants’ of life ahead of the ‘shoulds’ of life.”

23. Martin Sheen (Actor): La Roche College

“We are not asked to do great things, we’re asked to do all things with greater care. Such an ideal is rare in a culture of so compromised values and so much cynicism, a culture that all too often knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

24. Rita Dove (Poet): Emory University

“Some might ask, why do we need books or art or music, and some may just as well ask, why does that bridge have to be beautiful? ... You see, we all have imagination. We use it every day. We relish it. We would languish without our aesthetic desires.”

25. Tenzin Gyatso (Dalai Lama): Tulane University

“I’ve had no modern education, so my knowledge compared to yours amounts to zero, but I have observed that many of the problems we face today are of our own creation. Because we created them, we must also have the ability to reduce or overcome them.”

26. Deepak Chopra (Physician): Hartwick College

“Remember that love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant.”

27. More Jon Lovett at Pitzer

“There are moments when you'll have a different point of view because you're a fresh set of eyes; because you don't care how it's been done before; because you're sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you're wrong, because you're 23 and you should shut up and listen to somebody who's been around the block.”

28. More John Green from Butler University

“You have probably figured out by now that education is not really about grades or getting a job; it’s primarily about becoming a more aware and engaged observer of the universe. If that ends with college, you’re rather wasting your one and only known chance at consciousness.”

29. Anne Fadiman (Author): College of the Holy Cross

“Don’t confine yourself to the fair weather races, the easy races, the races you know you can win. Get out in gale force winds. Know you will capsize, again and again and again and again.”

30. Judith Viorst (Author): Goucher College

“Becoming a grownup means understanding that when really bad things happen, that the answer to ‘why me?’ is ‘why not me?’”

See Also: 27 Bits of Wisdom from 2012 Commencement Addresses

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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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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.

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