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9 Timeless Bits of Wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt

Most people remember Eleanor Roosevelt as a first lady, United Nations diplomat, and humanitarian, but she was also a prolific writer. Roosevelt wrote 27 books—and her first one, an advice book for American ladies called It’s Up to the Women, was published shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration. Out of print for years, the work is slated for a re-release on April 11, 2017, with a new introduction by Harvard University historian Jill Lepore.

It’s Up to the Women contains an eclectic assortment of wisdom. (The Hartford Courant described it as "a book of general counsel and advice on pretty well everything, from dish-washing to high diplomacy.") Naturally, the book offers reflections on women's changing roles in society, and tips for living through the Great Depression. But even by modern standards, it still yields plenty of good, common sense advice for women and men alike, on everything from health to parenting to doing one's civic duty.

In honor of Women's History Month, here are some select nuggets of wisdom culled from Eleanor Roosevelt’s debut work.

1. ON JUGGLING A FAMILY AND A CAREER

Long before we debated the concept of “having it all,” Roosevelt contemplated how women could have both a family and a fulfilling career. To make this juggling act possible, she argued, society needs to relax its rigid standards of motherhood and wifehood. Men occasionally need to shift their priorities, and women may have to as well:

I never like to think of this subject of a woman’s career and a woman’s home as being a controversy. It seems to me perfectly obvious that if a woman falls in love and marries, of course her first interest and her first duty is to her home, but her duty to her home does not of necessity preclude her having another occupation. A woman, just like a man, may have a great gift for some particular thing. That does not mean that she must give up the joy of marrying and having a home and children. It simply means, when we set them in opposition to each other, that we haven’t as yet grown accustomed to the fact that women’s lives must be adjusted and arranged for in just the same way that men’s lives are. Women may have to sacrifice certain things at times—so do men.

2. ON MONEY

Roosevelt wrote It’s Up to the Women during the Great Depression, so the nation's economic downturn weighed heavily on her mind. She advocated a frugal lifestyle, and even devoted an entire chapter to the importance of budgeting (“A budget is a necessary evil no matter how dull you may find it,” she conceded). However, Roosevelt also acknowledged that we sometimes need to throw austerity to the wind and splurge on little things: "No one can really decide [what to spend our money on] for us because to some people certain things mean more than to others,” she wrote. “I should be most unhappy if I could not buy new books but having beefsteak for dinner would mean nothing to me whatsoever!”

Roosevelt also had plenty of advice for fashion on a budget: Buy only what you need, spend more money on quality clothing items that will stand the test of time, and jazz up a tired ensemble with fresh accessories. “One can usually count on a coat lasting two seasons, but a new hat will frequently make people think that everything one has on is new,” she wrote. Good style, Roosevelt concluded, is the product of taste and a carefully curated wardrobe—not money.

3. ON BUDGETING TIME

Roosevelt was a tireless worker, but even she needed a respite from the daily grind. “It is a rare person who can get on without some break in the regular routine,” she wrote. “Budgeting time to arrange for these breaks is just as important as it is to plan the income.”

To fit leisure time into a busy schedule, Roosevelt recommended sticking to a regular routine, completing the hardest chores in the morning, and teaching children to perform basic self-care tasks and chores for themselves. As for break time, it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it's relaxing. “If you need extra sleep perhaps you can get a nap, but if not, sewing or reading or doing some kind of work you enjoy may be your rest,” Roosevelt wrote. “It simply means that your regular routine should be off your mind.”

4. ON HEALTH

Taking the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle is important for your health as well as the wellbeing of those close to you. “Your physical condition rests on your mental condition and on your spiritual attitude toward life,” Roosevelt wrote. “A nervous and irritable person can do little to make life pleasant for those around her; therefore it is up to us to study our physical needs well and to budget our lives to meet these requirements.”

Roosevelt rattled off a list of tips that would make any physician proud: Eat nutritious meals, get fresh air, keep your brain sharp with hobbies, and exercise. She also recommended staying mindful of your food choices, indulging in moderation, and eating slowly. Try dining with “some congenial companion" to pace yourself, she suggested, but “a book will do if no human is at hand!”

Sleep is also important—but don't get too freaked out if you experience bouts of insomnia. “People who do not sleep should not worry about it,” Roosevelt wrote. “They should lie there and rest and think about pleasant things. They will either fall asleep or, at the worst, get up next morning perhaps a little less refreshed but still quite able to do their daily tasks and retire early the next.”

5. ON PARENTING

Roosevelt, a mother of six (her third child died when he was less than a year old), believed in teaching children to do their own chores; to love books, nature, and their country; and to explore their unique talents. But aside from that, the first lady had a hands-off approach to motherhood. She believed that children should be allowed to make mistakes—and learn from them—at every stage of life.

“I believe very strongly that it is better to allow children too much freedom than too little; it is better for them to get their feet wet than to be told at the age of 15 to put on their rubbers," Roosevelt wrote. "They should be old enough by that time to take care of themselves and if they prefer to get their feet wet, they should be allowed to do so."

However, Roosevelt did point out that a parent’s counsel occasionally comes in handy—particularly during the teen years: “Try to understand young people, particularly your adolescent young people, and not to be shocked or irritated by them," she wrote. "They are at an age where they do not understand themselves or the emotions which sweep over them and it is a time above all times when wise parents may be useful.”

6. ON KEEPING AN OPEN MIND

As times change, so do societal values, Roosevelt wrote. Stay open-minded and routinely reevaluate your core ideals:

We must all realize, I think, that between generations there is a tremendous gulf and that each new generation sets up its own standards as the result of contact with its own con-temporaries ... What would have seemed to one generation absolutely immoral will to another generation simply seem a matter of custom and manners and therefore in a changing world we must bear in mind that we cannot be too sure that ideals which have served us in the past are to continue to serve us in the future.

7. ON KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Can't afford to live like your affluent neighbors? Instead of feeling insecure, try enjoying life on your own terms and budget, Roosevelt wrote. After all, in an uncertain economy, everyone—even the rich—needs to watch their wallets:

One must set one’s own standards of what one wants in society. One must not be too much influenced by others and above all one must not attempt to strive to match what somebody else is doing. 'Keeping up with the Joneses' is no longer so important because Mr. and Mr. Jones are apt not to be very sure how long they can continue doing what they have always done. It is becoming increasingly evident that what one has matters little; what one is means that one can gather around oneself those who wish to see real people without regard to anything except enjoyable relationships and real personality.

8. ON MAKING FRIENDS

Cultivating a diverse social group broadens your horizons and helps you become a better person, Roosevelt wrote. Make an effort to befriend all sorts of people, and teach your kids the same principle:

The more kinds of people we know, the more interesting will our lives be. And the younger we discover this and bring up our children in an atmosphere of friendliness and to a habit of understanding and congeniality with varied interests and conditions in life, the more vital will be our homes and the better a training place for the children whom we must eventually shove out of the nest.

9. ON DOING YOUR CIVIC DUTY

Not everyone has time to be politically active, but as a U.S. citizen, it's your duty to stay informed and "use [your] vote as intelligently as possible," Roosevelt wrote. Don't vote for a candidate just because your family is, or because of regional prejudices: “A vote is never an intelligent vote when it is cast without knowledge. Just doing what some one else tells you to do without any effort to find out what the facts are for yourself is being a poor citizen.”

And since the book's title is It's Up to the Women, Roosevelt would have been remiss if she hadn't urged women to use their unique perspectives to change the political landscape:

One can have a bloodless revolution if one can count on leaders of sufficient vision to grasp the goal for which the mass of people is often unconsciously striving, and courage enough in the nation as a whole to accept the necessary changes to achieve the desired ends ... Are there women ready to lead in these new paths? Will other women follow them? We do not know, but one thing is sure, the attitude of women toward changes in society is going to determine to a great extent our future in this country. Women in the past have never realized their political strength. Will they wake up to it now?

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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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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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