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The Quick 10: 10 Facts About the Men of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The battle actually lasted overnight, but today is the day of Custer's Last Stand. So, here's a little trivia for you about some of the men who made history.

10 Facts About the Men of the Battle of the Little Bighorn

1. George Armstrong Custer had almost as many nicknames as George W. Bush. When he was young, his family called him Armstrong and Autie, which came about when a young Custer tried to pronounce his middle name. Later in life, his troops called him Curley and Jack. Jack was actually because of his initials, G.A.C., which were emblazoned on his satchel. Finally, the Plains Indians called him Yellow Hair and Son of the Morning Star. I bet they had some other choice nicknames for him as well.

2. Somewhat bizarrely, Crazy Horse's nickname was Curly, too. He was born with the name "In the Wilderness" or "Among the Trees" but eventually took on his father's name, Crazy Horse. People called him Curly because he had his mother's (Rattling Blanket Woman) light, curly hair.

3. Custer liked to wear cinnamon-scented oil in his hair.

4. Custer may have had a son with Mo-nah-se-tah, the daughter of Cheyenne chief Little Rock. She had her first child in January 1869, a couple of months after Custer's 7th Cavalry killed her father in battle and took 53 Cheyenne women and children captive. She had her second child late in 1869 - this is the child speculated to be Custer's.

5. By all accounts, the battle with Custer's Battalion lasted less than an hour. In fact, some evidence shows that it was less than HALF an hour. Which makes sense, considering that the 7th Cavalry was really outnumbered. No exact numbers have ever been determined, but it could have been as high as 9:1.

6. Not only did Custer die, two of his brothers, his brother-in-law and his nephew were also killed.

7. Lakota Chief Sitting Bull had a premonition that they would prevail over the 7th Cavalry.

8. The 7th Cavalry broke up into pieces during the attack, which included battalions led by Custer, Frederick Benteen and Marcus Reno. Reno went to West Point, where his best friend was none other than James Whistler. On a test, Whistler wrote that silicon was a gas. Many years later, Whistler told Reno that if he had gotten that question right on the test, then he would have stayed in the Army and been a general. Reno's response? "Then no one would have ever heard of Whistler's mother." Some of Reno's friends say this is the only joke he ever made.

9. Sitting Bull traveled with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for a few months in 1885. During that time, he nicknamed Annie Oakley "Watanya Cicillia" - "Little Sure Shot". He asked to adopt Annie after seeing her shoot the ace of hearts out of a card at 30 paces.

10. Black Elk, a famous Sioux Medicine Man, said he acquired his first gun at the Battle of the Little Bighorn when he took it from a dead trooper. Black Elk was one of Crazy Horse's cousins and took the name Nicholas Black Elk later in life when he and his family converted to Catholicism.
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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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