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9 Ways to Celebrate July 4th Like a POTUS

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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

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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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]