CLOSE
Original image

The Day The Mississippi River Ran Backward—and How It Led to The Trail Of Tears

Original image


New Madrid seismic zone. Red circles identify earthquakes that occurred between 1974 and 2002 with magnitudes 2.5 and larger. Green circles denote earthquakes that occurred before 1974. The larger the circle, the larger the earthquake. Source: USGS

In 1811 and 1812, a series of earthquakes emanated from New Madrid, Missouri, and were felt as far away as Ohio and South Carolina. The soil beneath the Mississippi River rose, temporarily changing its course so that it flowed backward. (The phenomenon is not as rare as you might think; in fact, the Mississippi flowed backward earlier this year thanks to Hurricane Isaac.) The event might have gone relatively unnoticed except that a group of Muskogee people thought the phenomenon was a river god, the Tie Snake, writhing under the ground.

The Tie Snake was believed to be an antlered river monster who lurked beneath the water and straddled the divide between the Upper and Lower Worlds—between sky and river, and order and chaos. Muskogee culture focused on communal prosperity, but their traditions had been altered by the infiltration of European trade goods and the new culture that accompanied them. Some Muskogee people believed that the Tie Snake was calling them to return to a traditional lifestyle—and warning them to stop the Europeans from infiltrating their culture.

This command might also have gone (relatively) unnoticed, except that a remnant of the Spanish government met some Muskogee warriors in Pensacola, Florida, and gave them weapons. The British had the young American navy tied up off the Atlantic coast in the War of 1812, and the Spanish hoped that the Muskogee men could weaken the Americans from another direction.

The Muskogee (Creek) War

The Muskogees themselves were divided over the potential for conflict, but before they could reach a consensus, European settlers in the area caught wind of the exchange and ambushed the Muskogee warriors at the Battle of Burnt Corn. The Muskogees retaliated at the Battle of Fort Mims in 1813, and panic flared all the way from the frontier outpost to the paved streets of the new capital. Andrew Jackson charged south, leading a cavalry which chased the Muskogees from the Battle of Talladega to the slaughter at Horseshoe Bend in 1814.

The Muskogees were forced to cede a huge portion of their land in the subsequent peace treaty, and Jackson didn’t forget the experience. When he ascended to the presidency, his harsh policies led to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Throughout the next decade, thousands of Muskogee, Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, and Chickasaw people were forced to march from the forests of the Deep South to what is now eastern Oklahoma. The Cherokee people’s journey was the most notorious; of the 15,000 who began the journey, 4000 died along the way.

All told, 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their ancestral lands during the forced migrations, in the exodus now remembered as the Trail of Tears.

Laura Steadham Smith is a graduate student at Florida State University.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES