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Napoleon I dies, via Getty Images
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10 Other Things That Happened on May 5

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Napoleon I dies, via Getty Images

While Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's victory over Napoleon's French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, it's not the only historic thing to have happened on May 5. Here are 10 more.

1. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS LANDS IN JAMAICA

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1494, Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Jamaica and claimed it for Spain.

2. FIRST WOMAN IS AWARDED A U.S. PATENT

In 1809, Mary Kies became the first woman awarded a U.S. patent, for a technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.

3. KARL MARX IS BORN

marx-primary_0.png

Friedrich Karl Wunder, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Friedrich Karl Wunder, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1818, political philosopher Karl Marx was born in Trier, Germany. In a twist of irony, it costs about $6 to visit the famed anti-capitalist's gravesite in London.

4. NAPOLEON DIES WHILE IN EXILE

Getty Images

In 1821, at the age of 51, Napoleon Bonaparte died while still in exile on St. Helena. At the time, his
personal physician reported on the death certificate that the emperor had died of stomach cancer,
which was consistent with reports that he suffered from abdominal pain and nausea in the last weeks of his life. But his body remained remarkably well preserved, a common side effect of arsenic poisoning, inspiring centuries of suspicion about foul play.

5. FIRST U.S. TRAIN ROBBERY TAKES PLACE

In 1865,  the first U.S. train robbery took place in North Bend, Ohio. According to one newspaper report, "While everything was wild with confusion, the desperadoes entered, and with the vilest oaths, demanded the money and valuables of the passengers."

6. CARNEGIE HALL OPENS

Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although the building had been in use since April, May 5, 1891 marked the official opening night of New York City's Carnegie Hall. And the storied venue kicked off things in an impressive way with a concert conducted by Walter Damrosch and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

7. CY YOUNG THROWS BASEBALL'S FIRST PERFECT GAME

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1904, the Boston Americans' Cy Young threw the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball.

8. JOHN T. SCOPES VIOLATES THE BUTLER ACT

In 1925, John T. Scopes was served an arrest warrant for teaching evolution in violation of the Butler Act.

9. ALAN SHEPARD BECOMES AMERICA'S FIRST SPACE TRAVELER

alanshepard.jpg

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 1961, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became America's first space traveler when he made a 15-minute suborbital flight in a capsule launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

10. THE UNABOMBER STRIKES

In 1982, a Unabomber bomb exploded in the computer science department at Vanderbilt University; secretary Janet Smith was injured.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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]

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