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The Quick 10: 10 State Nickname Explanations

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So, college football fans, you might have noticed that my beloved Iowa State Cyclones lost the big state rivalry to the Iowa Hawkeyes last weekend. Badly. It wasn't pretty. This inevitably leads to all of the University of Iowa fans to take to Facebook and Twitter to proclaim "It's still a Hawkeye State!!!" Yep. It is. But why is it the Hawkeye State? I have the answer to that burning question "“ and explanations behind nine other state nicknames "“ below.

peace1. North Dakota is the Peace Garden State. The International Peace Garden falls across both North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba and offers the state a much nobler nickname than the Flickertail State (it's a type of ground squirrel).
2. Arizona used to be called the Valentine State. That might seem like a pretty random nickname, but when you consider that it was made a state on February 14, 1912, it all starts to make sense"¦ and so do those "Arizona is for Lovers" shirts.

3. Delaware has the distinction of being the First State to ratify the constitution, and that's what you'll usually see on Delaware license plates. Surely that's only because "Uncle Sam's Pocket Handkerchief" won't fit, which is a reference to Delaware's diminutive size and its patriotic origins.

4. When I read that Colorado is sometimes called the "Switzerland of America," I briefly thought, "Because it's neutral?" Um"¦ no. Because of the mountains. Duh.

5. Arkansas may have been letting it be known that they are not a state to be messed with when they called themselves the Toothpick State. The Toothpick was a large knife, similar to the Bowie Knife, but longer and more throw-able. Speaking of which, Arkansas also has the nickname "The Bowie State" because the blacksmith who made the Bowie knife for Jim Bowie lived in Arkansas and popularized the blade there. Officially, Arkansas is "The Natural State."

6. "The Goober State" might sound like a pretty rude nickname for Georgia, but it's really not "“ "Goober" is a term for peanuts, and since Georgia is famous for producing peanuts, it makes sense.

cockade7. The state we usually know as the Free State (Maryland, in case you haven't been brushing up on your Jeopardy! questions lately) was once called the Cockade State. I know"¦ it sounds slightly questionable. A cockade is actually a ribbon ornament worn on hats as decoration (pictured), and this Revolutionary War-era nickname was coined when someone wrote that Maryland's young soldiers wore brilliant cockades.
8. You likely know Tennessee as the Volunteer State, especially if you're a sports fan, but back in the day, it wasn't uncommon to hear it referred to as "The Butternut State" (or likewise for Tennessee natives to be called butternuts). It's not because the area is so rich in squash, though "“ it's because the tan uniforms Tennessee soldiers wore during the Civil War resembled the color of butternut squash, and eventually the name spread to the whole state.
9. Oklahoma is obviously the Sooner State, but what does that mean? Well, way back when Oklahoma was called the Unassigned Lands, "Sooner" was a derogatory term referring to people who showed up and staked claim on the land before they were legally supposed to be able to.

10. And, of course, Iowa. We're the Hawkeye State because of literary origins, surprisingly enough. Well, maybe. There are two schools of thought there. #1: Natty Bumppo of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales (which includes Last of the Mohicans) also goes by the nickname of Hawkeye, and Judge David Rorer of Burlington, Iowa, is said to have suggested the name after reading the novels. Story #2: we're named for Chief Black Hawk, a Sauk tribe leader. Take your pick.

Do you know the story behind your state nickname, or one of the old nicknames that isn't used much these days? Let us know in the comments!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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