Friday, March 23, 2018

A Little Perspective

Gifts to Obama, first to worst

Two hundred, seventy-four gifts have been given to President Barack Obama between 2009 and 2012 by foreign countries and their leaders. The Washington Post ranked the best and the worst.

The five best

1. A five-inch Aztec calendar in silver, given by Mexico in 2012.

Mexico is very good at giving gifts, as it turns out. Why did this particular gift earn top marks? Because: 1. Aztec calendars are cool. 2. A five-inch silver piece is not chintzy. 3. They gave this in 2012, when the world was at peak end-of-the-world mania. This gift was on-trend. Nicely done, Mexico.

2. A Maori club, given by New Zealand in 2011.

The full description: "11.5 x4 traditional Maori weapon with a short broad-bladed club, made of the sacred greenstone." Which sounds cool. We rest our case.

3. A ping-pong table, given by the UK in 2012.

The United Kingdom's gifts were a bit scattered, but the ping-pong table is a winner. The Obamas didn't set the thing up in the White House, it seems, but should have. The White House could use a more chill vibe.

4. Four bottles of tequila and a silver ark in a trunk, from Mexico in 2009.

Four bottles of tequila. That is a good gift. If you're curious what happened to the booze, the State Department offers a hint: "Perishable Items Handled Pursuant to U.S. Secret Service Policy."

5. A stainless steel watch, a brooch, and a ceramic dog bowl from the Czech Republic in 2009.

The Czech Republic got a gift for Bo. It wasn't the only country to do so, but that is adorable.

The five worst

270. A Blu-Ray disc set in a wooden display box, given by Russia in 2010

Thanks, Russia.

271. A Samsung Galaxy Tab and a stereo video cable and a Galaxy Tab charger from South Korea in 2010.

"Do we have a gift for Obama?" "What? You were supposed to bring it!" (agitated fumbling) "Driver, are there any Verizon stores between here and the White House?"

272. A Creative MP3 player and "uGoGo electronic pulse massager" from Singapore in 2010.

Who was giving MP3 players as gifts in 2010? This was three years after the iPhone came out, which, even if your country isn't making iPhones, you should at least recognize. You know who gave MP3 players as gifts in 2010? Grandparents who got hustled by jerk salespeople at Best Buy. And we're not going to discuss the massager.

273. A CD holder and some CDs, given by Russia in 2009.

Again, thanks, Russia.

274. A swag bag for the game "Witcher 2" from Poland in 2011.

"Witcher 2" was a well-received video game that came out around the time of the gift and was made in Poland. Okay, fine. But, Poland went a bit over the top in pitching the game to the president. To wit: "Best of the Witcher 2: Video Trailers for President Barack Obama" DVD; "Witcher 2" gift box, with three golden "Witcher 2" coins; a "Witcher 2" book; "Witcher 2" stickers; a 5.5x6.5x3″ ivory-colored bust of "Witcher 2" character "Gwynbleioo." Poland did come through with some vodka, but that can't make up for the rest of it.

A cut for better pay

You have probably already read about the pay cut that Raymond Burse, who recently took over as president of Kentucky State University, took to provide raises for minimum wage employees. But you may not have known that the raises appear to be permanent. With the job — which Burse will do on an interim basis for a year — came a nice little paycheck to the tune of almost $350,000. Burse, however, took the selfless, and unusual, step of giving himself a $90,000 pay cut so that the lowest paid employees at the university — clocking in at $7.25 an hour — could have their wages increased to a more livable $10.25. "This is not a publicity stunt," Burse told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "My whole thing is I don't need to work." And yes, the pay raise will remain in place, and apply to new hires, even after Burse's tenure at the school is over.

Elliot Hannon, Slate

A bag of chips hears

Imagine someone listening in to your private conversation by filming the bag of chips sitting on the other side of the room. Oddly specific, I know, but researchers at MIT did just that: They've created an algorithm that can reconstruct sound (and even intelligible speech) with the tiny vibrations it causes on video. When sound hits an object, it makes distinct vibrations. But the movement is tiny — sometimes as small as thousandths of a pixel on video. Only when all these signals are averaged can you extract sound that makes sense. The results are certainly impressive (and a little scary). In one example shown in a compilation video, a bag of chips is filmed from 15 feet away, through sound-proof glass. The reconstructed audio of someone reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb in the same room as the chips isn't crystal clear. But the words being said are possible to decipher.

Rachel Feltman, Washington Post

Lists you do and don't want to be on

The Princeton Review's eagerly awaited annual ranking of top party schools needs no introduction, so here is this year's list, based on a survey of 130,000 students at 379 schools.

1Syracuse University
2University of Iowa
3University of California at Santa Barbara
4West Virginia University
5University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
6Lehigh University
7Pennsylvania State Univ. at University Park
8University of Wisconsin at Madison
9Bucknell University
10University of Florida
12Florida State University

A reminder of how U.S. News ranks the top American universities.

5University of Chicago
7Massachusetts Institute of Technology
7University of Pennsylvania
10California Institute of Technology
49University of Florida
91Florida State University

Philip Bump, Washington Post

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