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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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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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iStock

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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