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The Quick 13: Where the 13 Colonies Got Their Names

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I think today's Q10 is pretty self-explanatory, no? So, I'll just wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving (or just a wonderful rest of the week if you're not celebrating) and be on my way to visit my parents. Mmm, homecooked food that I didn't have to make.

Quick Edit: You guys are totally right, I forgot Delaware - THE FIRST STATE! When I combined the Carolinas as 12 and 13 I guess I stopped counting. Wayne Campbell would be so disappointed in me...

MAP1. New Hampshire started out at the Province of New Hampshire. It was named by John Mason after the county of Hampshire in England (home of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens).

2. Likewise, Massachusetts was originally the Province of Massachusetts Bay. It was named after an Algonquian tribe, the Massachusett, which translates to something along the lines of "people of the great hill" or "at the place of large hills", referring to the famous Blue Hills.

3. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is sure a mouthful, so I'm glad it's been shortened to Rhode Island. That's just a colloquialism, though "“ the official name is still The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Basically, Italian explorer Giovanni Verrazano compared what is now Block Island to the Island of Rhodes in size. And in 1636, Roger Williams was given some land at the top of Narragansett Bay by Indian chiefs Canonicus and Miantonomi. Williams decided to call the land "Providence Plantations" because he felt that God had guided him there. The story is longer than this, and it's actually really interesting. You can check it out at the Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State.

4. Connecticut Colony got its name thanks to the Connecticut River (which obviously wasn't named that at the time).

The word comes from the Indian word "Quinnehtukqut", which means, roughly, "Beside the long tidal river." So the Connecticut River is sort of called, "Beside the Long Tidal River River".

5. New York. You'll see in a minute that King Charles I and II basically included shout outs to their friends and family all over the 13 Colonies. And New York is one of them. Most of us know it was originally called New Amsterdam when the Dutch were in possession of it "“ it was when the British took over that it received its current name. But why? To honor King Charles II's brother, the Duke of York and Albany (see?).

6. New Jersey got its name from an island in the English Channel, named, appropriately, Jersey.

7. Pennsylvania, of course, was named after William Penn. And "Sylvania" is Latin for woods or woodland, so Pennsylvania = Penn's woods. I'm curious as to how Penn got to name the state after himself, though "“ the 1680 charter was provided by King Charles II, who had a propensity for granting charters on the condition that the new territories be named after his nearest and dearest.

8. Georgia's another one named for a King "“ King George II, of course. George granted the charter in 1733, stipulating that the territory bear his name. It was the last of the 13 colonies.

9. Virginia was named after the first Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin queen (who was almost certainly not a virgin queen). West Virginia wasn't a separate state until 1861.

mary10. Maryland received its name by edict, not by choice. Cecil Calvert, the 2nd Lord Baltimore, received a charter from Charles I of England for this new colony. But there was a catch: the colony must be named after Charles' wife, Queen Henrietta Mary (she went by Queen Mary).

11, 12. North Carolina and South Carolina were considered one big unit until they divided up in 1729. By this time, King Charles II was in power and provided the charters, specifying that they be named after his father, King Charles I. Charles = Carolina? Yep. Caroliinus is a Latin word, an adjective derived from the Latin Charles "“ Carolus.

13. According to the book State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols, the state of Delaware and the Delaware Indians are named after the Delaware River. The Delaware River, in turn, is named after Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr.

And, a bonus: Vermont is named because, after seeing the Green Mountains, Samuel de Champlain referred to it as "Verd Mont" (green mountains) on a map in his native French language.

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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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