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9 Ways to Celebrate July 4th Like a POTUS

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WhiteHouse.gov

Fireworks. Barbeques. Trips to the ER. Sick of doing the same old thing every Fourth of July? Abandon the same old-same old and celebrate like our presidents do. Here’s how.

1. Purchase a Broom

Library of Congress

Though George Washington refused an official salary for his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he did ask for his daily expenses to be reimbursed—which is why we have a meticulous account of what he purchased on July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. In case you can’t decipher the spidery script, Washington purchased mutton, veal, “a roasting peice of Beef,” cabbage, beets, potatoes, lobster and... a broom.

2. Push up some daisies

Not one, not two, but three presidents have commemorated the Fourth of July by kicking the bucket.

John Adams passed away on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. His last words, it’s said, were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Adams was unaware that Jefferson had died just hours before.

Both men had America on their minds in their final moments. Among Jefferson’s final words: “I have done for my country, and for all mankind, all that I could do, and I now resign my soul, without fear, to my God,—my daughter to my country.”

In addition to mentioning Jefferson, Adams also said, “Independence survives.”

Five years later, James Monroe succumbed to heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831.

3. Drink double rations of rum

To celebrate Independence Day in 1778, then-General George Washington issued his army double allowances of rum. Does this guy know how to party, or what?

4. Recover from an assassination attempt (or try to)

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel when John Hinckley, Jr., fired six shots. None of them directly hit Reagan; his near-fatal injury was sustained when a bullet ricocheted off of his waiting limousine. By July 4, the President was doing well enough to host a picnic for a few thousand people (see main picture above) on the South Lawn of the White House.

Reagan isn’t the only president to be in assassination recovery on July 4. James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Sadly, his recovery didn’t go as well as Reagan’s. He lingered all summer, and though many attempts were made to save his life (some that did more harm than good), he died on September 19.

5. Celebrate the birth of your child

In 1998, Barack Obama was surely at the University of Chicago Medical Center celebrating the birth that day of his first daughter, Malia. Malia now celebrates her birthday during annual Fourth of July picnics for military families on the White House lawn.

6. Go on vacation

After serving in their official capacities by giving speeches and attending the White House picnic, many presidents use the Fourth of July to kick off a vacation. Ulysses S. Grant set the precedent back in the late nineteenth century by retreating to the Jersey Shore for some R and R.

7. Eat some rancid cherries

Following Independence Day celebrations at the Washington Monument in 1850, Zachary Taylor did what a lot of us probably do later in the night on July 4: He raided the fridge. Chowing down on cherries and iced milk, Taylor became immediately ill afterward, and died on July 9. Rumors of poisoning immediately flew around, but analysis of his remains in 1991 showed no evidence of assassination by arsenic. Taylor’s physicians chalked up his unexpected demise to cholera.

8. Blow out some candles

Calvin Coolidge is, thus far, the only U.S. President to be born on July 4. In 1872, John Calvin Coolidge, Jr., was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, to Victoria Moor Coolidge.

9. Light a few firecrackers

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Not even the Commander in Chief can resist being a pyromaniac on the Fourth of July. But, as you might expect, their fireworks are a little more impressive than yours. Here, Harry Truman gleefully accepts a massive firecracker with his initials on it in 1947.

If none of these presidential plans appeal to you, you could always create your own fireworks show with what you have on hand. That’s what a group of miners in Swan City, Colorado, had in mind in 1884 when they blew up the local post office after the town refused to supply fireworks.

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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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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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