CLOSE
Original image

6 Famous American Streets (And What Makes Them So Special)

Original image

Every town has a Broadway or a Main Street. And while some are more exciting than others, they all kind of look the same. Here's a look at six famous American streets, and what makes them so special.

Canal Street, New Orleans, LA

Don't let the name fool you; there isn't actually a canal on Canal Street. However, there were plans to build one when the town was founded, and a huge median was created to accommodate it. After the Louisiana Purchase, animosity between the native Creole population and the Americans was common, and the median in Canal Street served as the neutral ground.


Even though the canal never happened, the street has remained unusually wide over the years and now boasts three lanes of traffic in each direction, plus streetcar and bus lanes running down its center. One of the world's first successful movie theaters, Vitascope Hall, opened on Canal Street in 1896, and two classic movie houses survive today as live performance venues.


Now lined with skyscrapers and storefronts, Canal Street serves as the upriver border to the French Quarter and also the heart of the business district. Following Hurricane Katrina, many of the damaged store fronts on Canal Street were covered with bright graphic panels illustrating the essence of New Orleans, including its food, music and culture.

Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY

teddy-roosevelt-buffalo.jpg

Delaware Avenue is known as the "Avenue of the Presidents" because three United States presidents each made a historic mark on the mansion-lined street. Not-so-memorable President Millard Fillmore died there after his term in office. (His final words spoken at his home were "my only regret in death is that the Whig dies with me.")

William McKinley was shot during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and he stayed at the John Milburn home on Delaware Avenue while he recovered. Eight days later, however, McKinley died of gangrene in the house. As a result of McKinley's death, Theodore Roosevelt rushed to Buffalo and took his presidential oath of office at the Ansley Wilcox Mansion, owned by a friend and business partner of Grover Cleveland. It was at this house that Roosevelt became the only President to take the presidential oath without placing his hand on a Bible.

Aside from its presidential trivia goldmine, the historic mansion-lined stretch of Delaware Avenue was considered to be the richest street in the nation during the late 19th century. The mansions still stand today, many of them having been turned into businesses or museums. [Image courtesy of VictorianSociety.org.]

Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV

vegas-strip.jpg

Most people know this super-famous street simply as "The Strip," but it's actually just a portion of the 37-mile-long State Route 604. The northern end of the road passes through Jean, Nevada, where the last spike of the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad was laid—historic because Las Vegas owes its existence to the railroad.

The road now known as Route 604 has had many names, including 5th Street, the Arrowhead Highway, Los Angeles Highway and Salt Lake Highway. For many years, it was the only major thoroughfare in Vegas. Of course, if you visit this street, you probably aren't going to stop by the railroad spike for a photo. Instead, visit The Strip, four miles of neon signs pointing you to dozens of casinos and attractions, including 18 of the 25 largest hotels in the world and the world's largest gift shop. In case you need another reason to visit, The Strip has been designated a National Scenic By-way.

Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

fifth-avenue.jpg

It's not just for Saks stores, folks! If you follow Fifth Avenue from its beginning at Washington Square Park to its end at the Harlem River, you will pass many of New York's legendary landmarks: Rockefeller Center, New York Public Library, Central Park, St. Patrick's Cathedral and The Empire State Building. Let's not forget the museums along Museum Mile, which include the Met and the Guggenheim.

apple-store-5th.jpg

Of course, Fifth Avenue also has a storied legacy as one of the most expensive streets in the world. On its most pricey stretch between 34th Street and 59th Street, you can find dozens of high-end retail stores like Tiffany & Co., Burberry and Chanel, as well as the famous glass cube entrance to the underground flagship Apple Store.

One more Fifth Avenue nugget—many streets in Manhattan are divided into east and west variations using Fifth Avenue as a zero-numbering spot, meaning numbers increase in both directions.

Vermont Street, San Francisco, CA

vermont19511.jpg

Vermont Street in San Francisco has a bit of a dispute with Lombard Street for the title of "the crookedest street in the world." Located in the Protero Hill neighborhood, Vermont Street features a two-block section with seven incredibly sharp turns. Some sources state that Lombard features more turns, but Vermont Street features a steeper slope with sharper turns. While less picturesque than the touristy Lombard Street, any cab driver or native resident in San Francisco will tell you that Vermont is the curvier street. This year it was the new location of the annual Bring Your Own Big Wheel event, which features adults riding the classic children's toy. Fortunately for the riders, the twisted section of Vermont Street is paved with concrete rather than the red brick used on Lombard Street. As for the actual crookedest street in the world, Ripley's lists Snake Alley in Burlington, Iowa. [Image courtesy of San Francisco City Guides.]

Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA

mulholland-drive.jpg

There are a lot of great views of Los Angeles along its scenic roads, but Mulholland Drive provides some of the most popular. Mulholland Drive follows the Santa Monica Mountains and the Hollywood Hills, offering views of the Hollywood sign, downtown Los Angeles, Burbank and the rest of the San Fernando Valley. Part of the road is unpaved and not accessible by car, making it popular with hikers and mountain bikers, and leads to a decommissioned Project Nike site that has been converted to a Cold War memorial park. Due to its scenic curves, Mulholland Drive is also well-known for street races and car accidents.

The street has been nicknamed "Bad Boy Drive" in honor of its notorious bachelor residents, which have included Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando. In fact, it was at Brando's Mullholland Drive estate that his son Christian Brando committed manslaughter. (The estate was purchased by Jack Nicholson, who tore down the famous house because it was becoming derelict.) And of course, the films Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Falls are both named for the scenic street, which has been the backdrop for many other movies. [Image courtesy of PlanJam.com.]

Caroline Donnelly is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
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