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Workman Publishing

5 Presidents Who Fought For Their Right To Party

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Workman Publishing

Adapted from the book PARTY LIKE A PRESIDENT: TRUE TALES OF INEBRIATION, LECHERY, AND MISCHIEF FROM THE OVAL OFFICE by Brian Abrams, illustrated by John Mathias; Workman Publishing (February 2015). If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

1. Abe Lincoln’s Frat-Boy Act

In January 1833—decades before The Great Emancipator, burdened by the most devastating crisis in U.S. history, couldn’t stomach three square meals per day—a 24-year-old Abraham Lincoln opened a grocery store in New Salem, Illinois, with his Army buddy William F. Berry.

Aptly named Lincoln and Berry, the emporium sold bacon, guns, and beeswax—essentials for any homemaker—plus rum, whiskey, and brandy. That stockpile of tipple came in handy on the day Lincoln had to settle a financial dispute between an employee and a local gambler. According to biographer Carl Sandburg, Lincoln bet the gambler that he could “lift a barrel of whiskey from the floor and hold it while he took a drink out of the bunghole.” If he failed, he’d give the gambler a fur hat. If he succeeded, the gambler got nothing. Abe then dropped to a tactical squat position, lifted the barrel to his mouth, and basically performed a reverse keg-stand with superhuman strength.

Of course, the stunt came back to haunt Lincoln during his 1858 run for Senate. In a series of debates, incumbent Stephen A. Douglas exposed Abe’s past life as a “flourishing grocery-keeper in the town of [New] Salem” who could down “more liquor than all the boys of the town together.” Setting a precedent for eons to come, Lincoln refuted the claim.

2. FDR’s Recipe for Disaster


Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of many talents. Making martinis was not one of them. Most weekends, the president retreated to his Hyde Park mansion in New York, where Hollywood luminaries and lefty warriors had to endure Roosevelt’s atrocious bartending skills. Garnished with olives, lemon peels, and drops of absinthe, FDR’s martinis were so notoriously bad that New York Supreme Court Justice Samuel Rosenman regularly dumped them in a nearby flowerpot.

“Many people—and this is recorded—say ‘the president made the worst martinis I’ve ever tasted,’” Roosevelt’s grandson Curtis told the History Channel in 2005. And plenty of people had a chance to try them; during the war, Roosevelt opened his liquor cabinet for guests nearly every night. But his booziest affair probably occurred when he pulled out all the stops and threw a toga party for his 52nd birthday. Responding to conservatives who called him a dictator, Roosevelt wore a laurel crown. Afterward, a speechwriter lightheartedly addressed Roosevelt as “Dear Caesar” in his letters. The president eventually asked him to stop, according to historian Conrad Black, “fearing the press might get hold of such a letter and misconstrue it.”

3. Gerald Ford’s Cheesy Faux Pas

Sure, Gerald Ford was an all-star college football player, but there’s a reason people think he’s a klutz.

He once famously tumbled down the stairs of Air Force One. While golfing in Palm Springs, California, he smacked an electric cart into a shack. During ski trips, TV cameramen would station themselves by the toughest slopes, anticipating a pratfall. So what happened on December 30, 1974, when members of the press corps invited the president to a cocktail party in Vail, Colorado, should have been no surprise. Ford, who was on his Christmas break, walked into the party and “made a beeline for the kitchen,” according to reporter Thomas DeFrank’s memoir Write It When I’m Gone, “asking, 'Who needs a drink?'”

Martini in hand, Ford puffed a pipe and collapsed onto a couch. The president was so off his guard, DeFrank observed, that he set his “loafer dead in the center of a two-pound wheel of Brie on the coffee table ... as he stood up, the cheese stuck to the bottom of his shoe for a heart-stopping instant—before quietly plopping back onto the plate. He never knew.” In the president’s defense, the snack did look like a tiny ottoman.

4. Franklin Pierce’s Casual Friday

Franklin Pierce loved a stiff drink and was known for his marathon carousing sessions. But the one that occurred on Friday, October 23, 1857, takes the cake. Pierce’s friend Clement March recounts in his diary: “[The general] and I dined at the Tremont at one o’clock, a glass of brandy and water before, a pint of champagne at dinner, went to the Fair Grounds and returned to the Tremont at 5, drank brandy and water till 71⁄2, supped at Parker’s on broiled oysters, beefsteak, and Pomy’s Claret, went to the Theatre, and saw Fanny Kemble and her daughter in a private box by mistake, returned to Parker’s and drank some very old brandy in his private room, went back to the Theatre and took possession of our ‘proscenium box,’ then again to Parker’s and had raw oysters and a bottle of Stein Wine, then to the General’s room, drank two pint bottles of champagne, took a stroll about the streets, and made a call in Fruit Street, where we disbursed some thirty dollars, and at 4 o’clock repaired.”

That’s all, no big deal.

5. Andrew Jackson’s Animal House

When Andrew Jackson walked into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration on March 4, 1829, he brought some unwanted company.

His staff had planned a post-inauguration White House reception, but they’d mistakenly opened it to the public, and a thirsty mob quickly besieged the party. According to mortified Congressman James Hamilton Jr., “thousands ... poured in one uninterrupted stream of mud and filth, among the throngs many fit subjects for the penitentiary.” The riffraff darted for the kitchen with a collective eye on the waiters pushing barrels of boozy orange punch. A few barrels tipped over and spilled onto White House carpets and floors. Thousands of dollars worth of crystal and china were flung off serving trays. Fights broke out, and the president was nearly suffocated by a barrage of drunken constituents. That’s when Jackson’s distressed kitchen staff came up with a brilliant idea: Take the hooch outside. According to biographer Robert Remini, “all the windows were thrown open to provide additional exits for those anxious to keep up with the refreshments.” The swarm followed the booze out the window—Mr. President included.

If you're in the New York area, come celebrate Brian's new book with us on February 10th! RSVP here.

http://www.powerhousearena.com/events/11476/

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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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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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