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Weekend Word Wrap: recovered words

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Taking a cue from guest-star _floss blogger A.J. Jacobs and his past week's worth of postings on these pages, I thought I'd use the Wrap to look at some Biblical words found in the caves of Qumran in 1946: The Dead Sea Scrolls.

The San Diego Natural History Museum has mounted a fantastic exhibition featuring the 2000-plus year-old scrolls and has generously put together a enlightening list of facts for us. Plus, they've given us permission to repurpose a cool video on the scrolls, so be sure to check that out as well. (And if you live in Southern California, or think you're going to be visiting before the end of the year, be sure to check out the museum's Web site for tickets to this one-of-a-kind exhibit.)

scroll.jpgDead Sea Scrolls Facts

The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known copies of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament: more than 2000 years old.

The scrolls were first found in caves along the shoreline of the Dead Sea in 1946. There are 225 caves in the area. Eleven caves yielded the scrolls. The search took place from 1946 to 1957.

A Bedouin goat-herder was the first person to discover the scrolls; he was looking for a lost goat which he thought had wandered into a cave. The goat-herder threw some rocks into the cave, hoping to route out the goat. He heard the rocks hitting the clay jars and knew something besides his goat might be in the cave. He did not understand their importance right away and took some of the leather fragments to give to his co-workers to repair their sandals.

(Many more interesting scroll facts after the jump.)

  • Some of the scrolls were found in little pieces, and some were found somewhat in tact.
  • In total nearly 100,000 scroll pieces were found; over the years they have been put together like pieces of a puzzle, resulting in 900 recognizable individual documents.
  • Piecing the scrolls together was like putting together a 100,000-piece puzzle with no picture on the box top.
  • The pieces were matched by: color, handwriting style and language. With the evolution of crime- scene science, many were matched using DNA, since most of the scrolls were written on goat skin.
  • Many of the scrolls were wrapped in linen cloth and stored in clay jars. The steady, dry climate in the caves helped preserved the scrolls over 2000 years.
  • Originally, as the scrolls were being pieced together, the conservators used Scotch tape. Later all the tape had to be meticulously removed when conservators realized the tape was disintegrating and damaging the scrolls.
  • Using more crime scene investigative techniques, scientists study the pollen, clothing fibers, and even lice that were found on the scrolls to learn more about who wrote the scrolls and also about the environment back then.
  • The scrolls are written in three languages: Paleo-Hebrew, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Aramaic was the predominant language of the time. Paleo-Hebrew was writing that was used before the Babylonian exile.
  • It is believed the writers of the scrolls hid them in caves because they were anticipating an invasion by the Roman army and they wanted to keep the scrolls safe.
  • There are three types of scrolls: biblical, apocryphal and sectarian. The biblical scrolls are those that became the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. The apocryphal scrolls were determined not to be the inspired word of God and the sectarian scrolls were scrolls written about the current times and included land deeds, rules of war and community._
  • Some people believe the Essenes wrote the scrolls. The people who lived in Qumran called themselves "the sons of light."
  • The Deuteronomy scroll containing the Ten Commandments uses both versions of the Ten Commandments, from Deuteronomy and Exodus: same rules with slightly different wording. It "weaves" the two versions together.
  • The 10 Commandments are the original commandments, 613 Jewish laws hang on 10 commandments.
  • The Copper Scroll is the only Dead Sea Scroll engraved in copper. The Copper Scroll is also unique because it doesn't talk about religion or community living—it's all about treasure. It lists 67 locations and the treasure that can be found in those places (over $1 million in 1960's US dollars). Some people take it seriously, and others think it's an ancient hoax. Treasure hunters and archeologists haven't found anything (yet).
  • The Copper Scroll is from Jordan and has never before been displayed on American soil.
  • In the Psalms Scroll, the order of the Psalms is different than what we are used to—there are also "extra" psalms (155 vs. our 150) and a few extra poems.
  • The St. Petersburg Codex (a codex is the first form of a book) is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. It is dated to 1010 CE. There are 11 codices in the exhibition; most have never been seen on the West Coast; never been seen outside of Russia.
  • Like Jewish people today, the people that wrote the scrolls thought saying or writing out the name of God was irreverent. So they used four letters, called a tetragrammaton in Greek: YHWH. Some scribes were even more cautious and put the four letters in an older, blockier Hebrew called Paleo-Hebrew. One scribe just used four dots in place of the letters,
  • like this: "¢ "¢ "¢ "¢
  • This is the largest exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls ever assembled and it will only be in San Diego. It won't travel to LA or anywhere else. In all, 24 scrolls from Israel and three from Jordan are on display
  • In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, this exhibition has dozens of other ancient manuscripts from around the world that trace the Bible through history and different cultures.
  • As of October 15, the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments from the Dead Sea is on display. The Genesis Scroll with the flood story is also on display.

  • Lastly, if you're a fan of satire, here's a Biblical recovered word send-up on The Morning News I wrote some moons ago.

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    iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
    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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    Opening Ceremony
    These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
    May 19, 2017
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    Opening Ceremony

    Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

    Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


    Opening Ceremony

    To this:


    Opening Ceremony

    The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

    [h/t Mashable]