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All the Presidents' Menus: What First Families Eat on Christmas

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People are strangely fascinated by what other people eat, and even more so when that other person is the president. Here are 10 Christmas dinner menus from presidents past and present.

1. GEORGE WASHINGTON // 1790

Christmas at Mount Vernon was no small affair. In addition to Washington's super-tasty eggnog, the first president served onion soup, oysters, broiled herring, Yorkshire pudding, roast suckling pig, turkey with chestnut stuffing, boiled beef with horseradish sauce, Virginia ham, lima beans, acorn squash, baked celery with almonds, hominy pudding, candied sweet potatoes, cantaloupe pickles, spiced cranberries, and mincemeat, apple, and cherry pies. There were more desserts, including blancmange, jellied plums, snowballs (whatever those were), ice cream, and plum pudding, plus an assortment of fruit, nuts, cheese and egg-free alcoholic beverages.

2. GROVER CLEVELAND // 1887

After a hearty breakfast of oranges, boiled rice, and salt mackerel, Grover Cleveland and his family and guests were treated to an elaborate dinner menu featuring oysters on the half shell, game soup, boiled fish, roast goose, applesauce, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, more boiled rice, stewed onions, lobster salad, duck, plum pudding, vanilla ice cream, mince pie, salted almonds, various fruit, candies and cookies, and coffee. The White House Christmas Plum Pudding recipe is a monster of culinary proportions: it begins with a cup of beef suet followed by at least 16 more ingredients, 12 steps of preparation, four hours of boiling, and then a brandy sauce recipe to top it off that calls for "a piece of butter as large as an egg." Though he never found himself stuck in the presidential clawfoot tub, it might be worth noting that President Cleveland was quite large.

3. THEODORE ROOSEVELT // 1907

Whatever else the Roosevelts were planning for their Christmas feast in 1907, they probably didn't expect the shipment that arrived from Helen Longstreet, a well-known Southerner. She hand-fed a pair of possums for months—"mostly persimmons"—for the sole purpose of gifting them to the president and his family. Longstreet, a postmistress in Gainesville, Georgia, wrote on the box, "These o'possums surrendered near the Wren's Nest, Atlanta, both contending smilingly for the honor of furnishing the Christmas dinner for the American Prince and his family." It's hard to imagine anyone would get away with the shipment of animals or that "American Prince" line today without a surprise visit from men with badges, but it's a sweet story, if you're into eating possum.

4. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT // 1941

As the United States celebrated Christmas for the first time as combatants in WWII (and while still climbing out of the Great Depression), the dinner menu at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was pared down a bit to reflect the country's wartime sacrifice. FDR and guest of honor Winston Churchill dined on clear soup, thin toast, turkey and dressing, and beans, and of course a Christmas plum pudding made an appearance as well.

5. HARRY S. TRUMAN // 1947

The Trumans served what was probably the first roll-free White House Christmas dinner: the menu was "minus bread or rolls and butter, in keeping with the national food conservation program," and included only tomato consommé, curled celery, assorted olives, roast turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, asparagus, the now-infamous plum pudding, fruit salad, and coffee.

6. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER // 1960

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Details are scant about the Eisenhowers' holiday menus, but one fact is known: in 1960, the family received a 42-pound turkey and a gallon of oysters for the affair, courtesy of a Mr. Arthur Briscoe. To put that bird into perspective, the average 5-year-old child weighs around 40 pounds.

7. RICHARD NIXON // 1973

Things were not looking great for Nixon's presidency in 1973, what with that whole Watergate thing. The Nixons had a very small, private dinner in 1973 with just a few family and friends, some turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce. Eight months later, Nixon became the first (and only) president to resign the office.

8. BILL CLINTON // 1993

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Since the Clintons were already in the practice of hosting Christmas dinner for both their families, they put out quite a spread to include everyone's favorites: turkey and ham, bread stuffing and cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes, green beans, broccoli, ambrosia, a cranberry mold, giblet gravy, a relish tray with green onions, watermelon pickles and olives, and pumpkin, pecan, apple, and cherry pies. And on top of all of that, champagne, wine, eggnog, syllabub, and sweet potato punch (from a recipe clipped from an Arkansas newspaper).

9. GEORGE W. BUSH // 2007

The Bushes enjoyed a relatively low-key Christmas lunch at Camp David in 2007. On the menu? Turkey, dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes, fruit salad, Parker House rolls, pumpkin and pecan pies, and red velvet cake.

10. BARACK OBAMA // 2011

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In 2011, the Obamas celebrated in Hawaii with steak, potatoes, green beans and pie. His menu in 2010 was slightly more traditional, though just as simple: turkey, string beans, dressing, and mac and cheese.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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