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10 Things You Should Know Before Boarding an "Unsinkable" Oceanliner

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I was telling my husband that I wasn't sure how to start a Titanic story, and this was his suggestion:

"Hey, this is a little-known fact... an obscure, low-budget movie was made about it in the 90s."

So, on that note, today is the 96th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Yes, we all know about Jack and Rose and their brief-but-intense relationship aboard the ship, but which details did James Cameron get right, which did he exaggerate and what did he leave out altogether? Below are 10 things you may not know about the real Titanic. [And if that gets you in the mood to buy some Titanic merchandise, order our "Ship Happens" shirt.]

1. Iceberg Warnings

iceberg
Seems like this ship was doomed. Captain Edward Smith actually changed course a little bit in response to iceberg warnings he received over wireless, but, obviously, icebergs were in the Titanic's future anyway. Two boats, the Amerika and the Mesaba, both sent messages to the Titanic to warn the captain that despite changing course, huge icebergs were still in the ship's path. Neither message made it from the wireless operator to the bridge. Around 11 p.m., The Californian sent word that they were stopped for the night because of the ice. Like the others, this message never left the wireless room.

2. Notable Passengers

passengers
Being the first to ride on the luxury ocean liner was a big deal "“ thus, some very rich and prominent people called the first-class cabins "home" 96 years ago. Just a few of the passengers included:

"¢Millionaire John Jacob Astor and his pregnant wife, Madeleine. They had been on their honeymoon when she became pregnant, which is why they booked tickets on the Titanic. Many legends about Astor and the Titanic are floating around, but none of them have ever been substantiated. It's rumored that he was the one who let all of the dogs out of their kennels so that they might have a fighting chance; it's also said that he put a woman's hat on a younger boy so that he would be mistaken for a woman and would be able to board a lifeboat. My favorite, though, is the rumor that when the iceberg struck the ship, Astor quipped, "I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous."

Benjamin Guggenheim, the son of mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim and the father of museum founder and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. He was reportedly the one who said, "We've dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen."

Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy's department store. His wife, Ida, refused to leave his side even though she was offered a spot on a lifeboat.

Molly Brown, who was friends with the Astors and decided to return home with them when she learned that her grandson was ill. Molly survived by boarding a lifeboat and tried to commandeer the boat when the boat's Commander, Robert Hichens, refused to go back and pick up people in the water even though the lifeboat was only half-full.

Dorothy Gibson, who, after Mary Pickford, was probably the best-known and highest-paid silent film actress of the day. She survived and made a film about her escape from the Titanic, even wearing the same clothes she wore on that fateful night "“ a white silk dress with a cardigan and polo coat. She may have been the inspiration for Rose in the 1997 movie that you may have heard of if you like little indie films.

3. The prices

Third-class passage was only about $36.25, although that was still quite a bit of money in those days, especially for a large family. Second class was about $66 and first class started at $125. The highest priced suite was $4,500, though, which was a huge amount of money "“ at the time, a decent house could be found for $1,000, so to spend more than four times that on temporary lodgings was pretty shocking. I suppose that's why they called it "The Millionaire's Suite".

4. A close call

close call
Both J. P. Morgan (right) and Milton S. Hershey (left) had reservations on the Titanic and surely could have booked the Millionaire's Suite. Mrs. Hershey fell ill so the Hersheys booked passage on a different ship "“ The Amerika. The Hershey museum displays a copy of the check Hershey wrote to the White Star Line as a deposit for his first-class room on the Titanic. The White Star Line was actually owned by J.P. Morgan, who was scheduled to be staying in his own private suite. He canceled for unknown reasons.

5. Commander Charles Lightoller

lightoller Commander Charles Lightoller was the senior-most crew to survive, but even his was a narrow escape. When water washed over the bow of the ship, Lightoller decided that he might as well jump in the water voluntarily before it took him unexpectedly. He surfaced from his dive only to be sucked back under as water flooded one of the ventilators. He was pinned to the grates until a blast of air from the ship pushed him back up to the surface. He then helped passengers cling to an overturned lifeboat until they were rescued. He continued to be a hero even after getting back to dry land - it was his testimony and recommendation that spurred safety improvements such as basing lifeboat numbers on passenger numbers (instead of the weight of the ship), 24-hour radio communications in all ships and lifeboat drills for the passengers.

6. The Titanic Curse

It doesn't really exist, but at the time, people thought the ship was cursed from the start. The ship was supposedly assigned the number 390904. Read that backward in a mirror and it vaguely resembles the phrase "No Pope". The Titanic was actually assigned the number 401, so there's really no truth to the "curse" at all.

7. Rediscovery

bow
The doomed steamliner wasn't found until 1985, when oceanographer Robert Ballard discovered it near Newfoundland using new sonar technology. He was actually just looking for debris, not the ship itself "“ over the years, experts decided that debris would have been scattered over a large area as the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean. Soon after sighting debris, the crew spotted a boiler and then the hull of the ship. The biggest discovery the team made is that the ship did actually split into two parts "“ both American and British inquiries had determined that the ship sank as one whole piece.
Ballard and his crew didn't take any artifacts from the ship at the time; he considered it graverobbing. Eventually, though, more than 6,000 items were recovered and put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Many objects were also part of a traveling Titanic museum exhibit.

8. The Last Survivor

deanMillvina Dean was the youngest person on the Titanic at a mere two months old. Her parents were moving from England to Wichita, Kansas, and managed to get third-class tickets for the Titanic. They never made it to Wichita - her father didn't survive the crash and her mother, being left with two small children, wanted to go home to England to be with her surviving family.

Strangely enough, her brother, Bertram, died on April 14, 1992, the 80th anniversary of the Titanic striking the iceberg.

9. Was the accident foretold?

Maybe Morgan Robertson was psychic. About 14 years before the Titanic sank, Robertson wrote Futility, a novel about the largest ship ever built hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on a cold April night. The ship "“ The Titan "“ sank, leaving only 13 survivors out of 3,000. The Titan was also billed as "unsinkable" and was also a British ship on its way to New York. A little spooky, no??

10. The last meal

What did all of these wealthy people dine on before going down with the ship? Well, it was quite a feast. Offerings at dinner on the night of April 14, 1912, included oysters, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, roast duckling, chateau potatoes, roast squab and cress, pate de foie gras, Waldorf pudding, peaches in Chartreube jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs and French ice cream.
Second-class passengers didn't fare quite so well "“ their dinner was their choice of haddock, chicken, lamb or turkey, boiled rice, boiled potatoes, plum pudding, American ice cream, fresh fruit, biscuits and coffee.
Third-class passengers received Irish stew, stewed apricots, fresh bread and butter and tea.

Well, these are just a few stories. Share your Titanic facts, speculation and urban legends in the comments!

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]

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