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Getty Images (Reagan)/Thinkstock (Life saver)/Erin McCarthy

The Summer Jobs of 14 Future U.S. Presidents

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Getty Images (Reagan)/Thinkstock (Life saver)/Erin McCarthy

Before landing our nation's top job, some presidents held less-than-glamorous gigs.

1. Barack Obama: Ice Cream Scooper and Sandwich Maker

In the mid 1970s, a teenage Obama served ice cream at a Honolulu Baskin-Robbins. It was his first job, and it made him lose his taste for the summer treat. Other years, Obama sold souvenirs in a gift shop and prepared sandwiches at a deli. Now that’s service we can believe in.

2. George W. Bush: Oilrig Roughneck and Ping Pong Peddler Extraordinaire

George Bush Presidential Library

The summer of 1965, Bush labored as a roughneck on an offshore oilrig near Louisiana. He said, “It was hard, hot work. I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life.” His favorite summer job, though, was working as a sporting goods salesman at Sears. He was the leading salesman of ping-pong balls.

3. Bill Clinton: Grocery Worker and Comic Book Salesman

Clinton landed his first job when he was 13, working in an Arkansas grocery store.  There, he convinced the owner to let him sell comic books, and he happily grossed about $100. Another summer, Clinton worked as a camp counselor. He also spent a handful of sunny days attending band camp in the Ozark Mountains, honing his saxophone chops. 

4. Ronald Reagan: Circus Roustabout and Lifeguard

In 1925, Reagan held a brief stint as a circus roustabout with the Ringling Brothers, earning $0.25 an hour. The next year, the high school sophomore started working as a lifeguard at Lowell Park in Dixon, IL. He worked 12-hour days all week. By the time his lifeguarding career ended, he had saved 77 lives. While attending Eureka College, Reagan cooked hamburgers in the cafeteria and washed tables in the women’s dorm. (He liked the second job better.)

5. Gerald Ford: Park Ranger

During summer 1936, Ford was waiting to be admitted to Yale law school. To fill the time, he worked as a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone National Park. One of his assignments was to work as an armed guard on a bear-feeding truck. He later called it “One of the greatest summers of my life.”

6. Richard Nixon: Chicken Plucker and Barker

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The summers of 1928 and 1929, little Richard visited his mother and older brother in Prescott, AZ. There, Nixon briefly worked for a local butcher, plucking and dressing chickens. Nixon’s favorite job, though, was working as a barker for a “Wheel of Fortune” gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival. (He also worked as a pool boy at a country club and helped out at his father’s grocery store.)

7. Lyndon B. Johnson: Shoe Shiner and Goat Herder

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To make extra dough during summer vacation, a 9-year-old LBJ shined shoes. (He buffed footwear during high school, too.) One summer, Johnson landed a gig as a goat herder and even worked in his uncle’s cotton fields. After graduating high school, he hitchhiked the Californian coast, making money as a busboy and waiter. 

8. Herbert Hoover: Laundry Entrepreneur and Miner

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While studying at Stanford, Hoover started his own laundry service for students and worked as a clerk in the registration office. When he graduated, the geology major worked ten-hour shifts in a gold mine near Nevada City, California.

9. James Garfield:  Canal Boat Driver and Janitor

When he was 15, Garfield ventured to Cleveland, hoping to land a job as a sailor. It didn’t pan out. So he settled for a job as a canal boat driver, transporting copper ore between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He never quite got his sea legs—he fell overboard 14 times and quit after 16 weeks. Later, while attending school in Ohio, he supported himself by working as a carpenter and janitor.

10. Ulysses S. Grant: Horse Trainer

Flickr

When Grant wasn’t laboring around his father’s farm, he was riding and training horses. He was so good at taming the animals that farmers from afar would bring him their most unruly horses. By age 10, he was driving passenger carriages between Georgetown, OH and Cincinnati—a long 45-mile trek.

11. Andrew Johnson: Tailor’s Apprentice

Starting around age 14, Johnson and his brother worked as tailor’s apprentices. But within three years, they had had enough. The duo ran away to the mother, and Johnson started his own tailoring business in Greeneville, TN. It was a good decision. He met his future wife there, and she eventually educated him.

12. Abraham Lincoln: Rail Splitter and Flatboat Pilot

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Lincoln split logs and built fences, earning him the nickname “Rail Splitter.” His father rented little Lincoln’s services to neighboring fathers, and Abe’s income helped keep the family going. Later, at 19, Lincoln became a flatboat pilot and steered it down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Boating was in his blood—he also worked as a ferry operator and even patented a device that helped boats float over shoals. He is the only president to hold a patent.

13. Millard Fillmore: Cloth Maker’s Apprentice

History.com

Born to a poor family, Fillmore had little schooling. So at 14, his father arranged an apprenticeship with a cloth maker. Rather than spending his income on candy, the uneducated Fillmore bought a dictionary. He’d bring it to the shop, and when his boss wasn’t looking, he’d flip it open and read.

14. Andrew Jackson: Saddler’s Apprentice and Schoolteacher

Wikimedia Commons

Wanting to fight in the Revolutionary War, Jackson joined the militia at 13. The war, however, eventually orphaned him. So, a veteran by 14, Jackson moved to a relative’s house and worked as a saddler’s apprentice. He only kept the job for six months, and at age 16 became a schoolteacher in his Carolina home of Waxhaws.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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