CLOSE
Original image

Tuesday Turnip: 12 Pittsburgh Firsts

Original image

It's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting factoids "turn-up."

pittsburgh.jpgAs always with this feature, the _floss is not responsible for accuracy. This is a random Internet search. If you know one of these facts to be untrue, by all means, let the world know in the comments below. Today I typed in "Pittsburgh" + "the first city to" unearthing the following from many different Web sites:

90619DiKH_w1.jpg1. First Big Mac - 1967. Created by Jim Delligatti at his Uniontown McDonald's, the Big Mac debuted and was test marketed in three other Pittsburgh-area McDonald's restaurants in 1967... Bellevue and Butler. By 1968 it was a mainstay on McDonald's menus throughout the country and eventually, the world.

smile1.jpg2. The Smiley was the first Internet emoticon, created in 1980, by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman.

3. First Polio Vaccine - March 26, 1953. The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a 38-year-old University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor, and his staff at the University of Pittsburgh.

4. First U.S. Public Television Station - WQED - April 1, 1954. WQED, operated by the Metropolitan Pittsburgh educational Station, was the first community-sponsored educational television station in America and was also the first to telecast classes to elementary schools (1955).

5. The First Gas Station - December, 1913. In 1913, the first automobile service station, built by Gulf Refining Company, opened in Pittsburgh at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. It was designed by J.H. Giesey.

6. First Robotics Institute - 1979. The Robotics Institute at Carnegie
Mellon University was established in 1979 to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks.

7. First Banana Split - 1904. The banana split was invented by Dr. David Strickler, a pharmacist, at Strickler's Drug Store in La trobe, Pennsylvania.

Mr.YUK21.jpg8. First Mr. Yuk Sticker - 1971. Mr. Yuk was created at the Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after research indicated that the skull and crossbones previously used to identify poisons had little meaning to the children of today (for most children it means exciting things like pirates and adventure). Covering 27 counties and 33 percent of Pennsylvania 's population, the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh is the largest such center in the United States.

9. First Ferris Wheel - 1892/1893. The first Ferris Wheel, invented by Pittsburgh native and civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896) was in operation at the World's Fair (Columbian Exposition) in Chicago. It was over 264 feet high and was capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers at a time.

10. First Night World Series Game - 1971. Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first night game in Series history. Pittsburgh tied the series in that game with a 4-3 win and went on to win the series, 4 games to 3. This was one of the last big moments in the career of well-loved Pirate, Roberto Clemente. Fourteen and a half months after the 1971 World Series, he died in a plane crash off the coast of his native Puerto Rico as he attempted to take food, clothing and medical supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

11. First Bingo Game - Hugh J. Ward first came up with the concept of bingo in Pittsburgh and began running the game at carnivals in the early 1920s, taking it nation-wide in 1924. He secured a copyright on the game and wrote a book of Bingo rules in1933.

12. First Pull-Tab on Cans - 1962. The pull-tab was developed by Alcoa and was first used by Iron City Brewery in 1962. For many years, pull-tabs were only used in this area.

And if you love all things Pitt, be sure to check out my post on Pittsburghese

Browse through past Tuesday Turnips here>>

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