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4 Secret Societies You (Probably) Don't Know About

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4 Secret Societies You (Probably) Don't Know About
by Stefanie Becker

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You've probably heard about the Order of Skull and Bones at Yale "“ George W. Bush and John Kerry were both members, among many other famous and/or influential men. But the Seven Society? Check out this secret fraternity and three others. But if anyone asks, I didn't tell you...

Flat Hat Club

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Formed in 1750 at William and Mary College, F.H.C. was the nation's first secret society. The "Flat Hat Club" was a name given to the group by outsiders, likely because of the mortarboard caps they wore (caps that we now wear at graduations). F.H.C.'s initials stood for Latin words, but it is uncertain what they were. Some believe them to be "Fraternitas Humanitas Cognitioque" meaning "Brotherhood, Humanity, and Knowledge." The society met regularly at Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg for drinking and discussion. They were not known for scholarly pastimes; the most famous known member, Thomas Jefferson, wrote in a letter that the society "served no useful object." F.H.C. seemed to die within two decades of its founding due to the Civil War but has seen recent revivals.

When membership and interest waned in F.H.C. in the 1770's, P.D.A. (now referred to as Phi Delta Alpha but called "Please Don't Ask" at the time) imitated F.H.C. and established themselves as a secret society to take its place. A student at the college, John Heath, was repeatedly refused entry, and so in retaliation he created the first Greek-letter fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, which later spawned chapters in other colleges. Ta-da! Greek Life!

Seven Society

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At the University of Virginia, Seven Society is the most secretive as well as (ironically) the most famous and visible on campus. It's unclear when or how they were founded (one rumor is that seven men gathered for a card game created the society when the eighth man didn't show up), but they first became public in 1905 when a white seven was painted on school grounds. Since then, the group has become a charitable powerhouse, buying a campus carillon, raising thousands of dollars for student loan funds, and awarding their own Seven Society Graduate Fellowship for Superb Teaching annually, which donates $7,000 to a teaching assistant nominated by students. Membership in the fraternity is so secret that it isn't revealed until after a member has died. When this happens, a wreath of black magnolias shaped like a "7" is placed on the grave and the University Chapel's bell tower chimes seven times in seven-second intervals on the seventh dissonant chord at seventh past the hour. The only way to contact the Seven Society is by hiding a letter at the base of the Thomas Jefferson statue inside the University's Rotunda.

Order of the Bull's Blood

rutgersEstablished by five friends in 1834, this fraternity holds the high honor of being the oldest active secret society at Rutgers University. Known for encouraging escalating pranks by new members to "˜prove' their allegiance, the Order caught the attention of nationwide newspapers in 1875 when they allegedly stole a canon from Princeton University. Other secret societies on campus, such as The Cap and Skull Honor Society, have made their activities and memberships public, but the Order is still so secretive that some question it even exists, calling it a hoax. In 2001, Spencer Ackerman wrote an unconfirmed article called "Degenerate Society" about how he had been asked to join the Order's fraternity but refused. Some people who allegedly didn't refuse: former Vice President Garret A. Hobart, former Director of the FBI Louis Freeh, and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman.

Eucleian Society

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The Adelphic Society was created by a group of 16 students at New York University in 1832. Shortly after, they changed their name to Eucleian, after Eukleia, the Goddess of Repute, Glory, and War. It became a literary society "“ with a stable source of money coming in from trusts "“ and hosted open forums and lectures (sometimes held with rival NYU society Philomathean). Although some members were known, most were kept secret, as were the inner workings of the organization. Documents and internal records kept by the group have had information removed, the name of the Society erased, and nearly all of it is written in symbolic shorthand. Regardless, the Society's events were announced in newspapers and became well attended. One early lecturer and repeated guest was Edgar Allen Poe, who became an important influence. This also gave rise to the use of ravens in the fraternity insignia and the nickname "˜Raven Society.'

The Eucleian Society was one of the most progressive, supporting gender equality, abolition, and Native Americans' rights. They printed two publications of their own, The Medly and the Knickerbocker, with articles lampooning and satirizing current events and people. Both became popular well beyond campus. Despite all of this, interest in the Society died down. Members were branded social elitists, and membership diminished as Greek fraternities gained prominence. In current years, the Society has opened up to those without University affiliation. A notable member of the Eucleian Society is John Harvey Kellogg, who invented corn flakes cereal with his brother, as well as Major Walter Reed, MD, a U.S. army physician who confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes.

What secret societies did (do?) your schools have? Better yet, any secret society members that can spill juicy details?

Check out the rest of our College Weekend festivities.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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