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The Top-Secret Inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes

When President-Elect Rutherford B. Hayes raised his hand and took the oath of office on the East Portico of the Capitol on March 5, 1877, his supporters breathed a sigh of relief. The ceremony marked the end of a lengthy, acrimonious debate between his Republicans and the Democrats over the results of the previous year’s election. Some even believed the tension might threaten to spill over into another Civil War.

Democratic nominee Samuel Tilden had earned the popular vote, and 184 of the 185 votes he needed in the Electoral College. But allegations surfaced that Tilden’s seeming victory was thanks, in part, to voter intimidation and fraud in key states like Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. A special Congressional committee was formed to sift through the paper trail, leaving the outcome in doubt for months.

Hayes being sworn in ended all speculation. But only a handful of people observing the ceremony knew that the celebration taking place that Monday was merely for show: Hayes had been sworn in during a secret ceremony two days earlier, in the presence of outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant. And history still isn’t quite sure why.

In the years following the Civil War, Reconstruction and bitter feelings had created a state of discontent. For the 1876 election, both of the major political parties knew the country would be looking for a president who was tempered in his actions.

The Democrats sided with Samuel Tilden, who made his name as governor of New York by breaking up a corrupt political scene headed by “Boss” Tweed; Republicans backed Rutherford B. Hayes, a Civil War veteran and Ohio governor who was so moderate in every aspect of his life—he abstained from alcohol—that it would be virtually impossible for him to stir up any radical opposition.

Political pundits who predicted a tight race weren’t disappointed. As the results began trickling in on November 7, 1876, Democrats crowned Tilden as the victor, with a winning popular vote margin of 250,000. But four states—Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Oregon—quickly became areas of contention. Democrats were plagued by allegations of intimidating newly empowered black voters to side with Tilden in three of those key territories; Democrats accused Republicans of foul play in Oregon.

Hayes needed 185 electoral votes. He had 184 to Hayes’s 165. Twenty electoral votes were in doubt. As the weeks went by, no one knew who the President-Elect was.

To break the logjam, Congress appointed a special Electoral Commission to investigate the results. Five Republican Congressmen joined five Democrats and five Supreme Court justices. It took them until February 1877 to come to a majority vote of 8-7 in favor of Hayes. He was President-Elect by one commission vote, possibly the narrowest margin of victory in any presidential election.

That decision did little to soothe the Democrats, who were incensed that their idea of the rightful winner was being denied his seat in the Oval Office. Extensive filibustering took place in the House that delayed acknowledgment of the commission’s decision. Rumors began to swirl that Tilden’s more ardent supporters might show up to Washington armed, with an eye on kidnapping Hayes so Tilden would be invited to take his place. One irate Tilden supporter shot a bullet into the window of Hayes’s home.

As Hayes and his wife, Lucy, began making the trip from Ohio to Washington, they had no idea if he was actually president. They were still traveling when they got the official announcement, which was made on March 2. The Democrats had finally ceded their point, albeit with concessions: They’d gain a Democrat postmaster general, as well as the removal of federal troops from government buildings, effectively ending Reconstruction.

When Hayes arrived in Washington on March 3, he was invited to dinner by outgoing president Ulysses S. Grant. At some point during the evening, Grant took Hayes to the Red Room in the White House and stood nearby as Supreme Court Justice Morrison B. White administered the oath of office. After the kidnapping rumors and the Democratic response, Grant may have desired a private and controlled inauguration that couldn’t be disrupted.

The two returned to dinner, their guests unaware of what had just taken place. As a result, March 3 was a day when the country had two commanders-in-chief.

The (second) Hayes inauguration. Senate.gov

Hayes had his official ceremony two days later. With Democrats appeased by the concessions, there were no disruptions. Still, Grant walked Hayes to the podium, protective of the President-Elect until his last moments as president were completed.

The U.S. Senate’s official reason for Hayes being sworn in early cites the calendar as the main issue. Inauguration day fell on a Sunday that year, and the Constitution contains no explicit protocol for what to do. To not swear in Hayes on Sunday and wait until Monday would technically mean the country would be without a president for a day. Dwight Eisenhower took similar dual oaths in 1957 for that reason.

But few elections had been as hotly contested as Hayes vs. Tilden, with the scars of the war still fresh. Grant may have seen potential for Democrats to disrupt the ceremony to the point where he felt it best to make Hayes’s appointment official as soon as possible. To delay might have meant Grant’s exit on March 4 would leave a void in office.

In the end, Hayes was as advertised, almost demure in his service—he and his wife even banned alcohol from the White House—and exited in 1881 just as quietly as he had come in.

It would’ve taken a true political historian to notice that his March 5 inauguration was a duplicate, but there was one clue for the observant. When Hayes arrived at the East Portico to be sworn in, he was sitting on the right of his carriage, a spot that was always reserved for just one person: the President of the United States.

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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
Original image
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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iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

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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