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2 Poles Who Aided the American Revolution

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Warm up the pierogies, Polish American heritage month is here again! Last year, we ticked off a list of 8 things you need to know about Polish Americans. This year, we're going to change things up a bit and profile two men who helped make the very idea of a Polish American (or any other kind of American for that matter) possible through their efforts in the war for American independence.

1. Kazimierz Michał Wacław Wiktor Pułaski

Pułaski was born in 1745 to a family of wealthy nobles in the village of Winiary. He studied at a college in Warsaw and became a page of one of the vassals of the Polish king. Not long after Pułaski began the job, though, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became a protectorate of the Russian Empire and the court was expelled by Russian forces occupying Poland.

In 1768, Pułaski, along with his father, became one of the co-founders of the Bar Confederation, an association of nobles that aimed to defend the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from both the Russian Empire and Polish reformers attempting to limit the power of the Commonwealth's nobility. Pułaski became a commander of confederate soldiers and engaged Russian forces in combat for the next four years.

In 1771, Pułaski helped organize an attempt to kidnap King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, who supported the Russian occupation.

The kidnapping plot failed and Pułaski was sentenced to death in absentia for attempted regicide. He fled the Commonwealth and found no state that would accept him. He finally settled in France illegally, where he encountered Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin recommended to General George Washington that PuÅ‚aski, "renowned"¦for the courage and bravery he displayed in defense of his country's freedom," be recruited for the American cavalry. PuÅ‚aski accepted the American offer and arrived in Philadelphia in 1777, taking part in the Battle of Brandywine just a few months later. Washington acknowledged PuÅ‚aski's skills and bravery with a promotion to the rank of brigadier general of the American cavalry and gave him command of four light cavalry regiments.

The 111th Congress has, as of 10/09, passed resolutions in each house proclaiming Pułaski an honorary citizen of the United States. The House bill and the Senate bill will have to be reconciled before President Obama can sign a bill. If the rest of the process goes smoothly, Pułaski will be only the seventh person to receive honorary citizenship. Winston Churchill was the first in 1963, followed by Swedish diplomat and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, Pennsylvania co-founder and governor William Callowhill Penn and his wife Hannah, Mother Teresa, and Marquis de Lafayette.

Pułaski's poor grasp of English and domineering personality caused difficulties in his new position, which he soon resigned. But Washington allowed Pulaski to organize an independent corps, dubbed the Pułaski Cavalry Legion. Pułaski led the legion for the rest of his involvement in the war, dipping into his personal finances to furnish equipment for his troops when money from Congress was scarce. The legion fought at the Little Egg Harbor massacre in New Jersey, the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina, and the Battle of Savannah, Georgia. During this last battle, in 1779, Pułaski led a cavalry charge while probing for weaknesses in the British line and was wounded by grapeshot fired from a cannon. He was carried from the battlefield by his troops and placed aboard a merchant ship. He was buried at sea.

One month later, Washington paid tribute to PuÅ‚aski by issuing a challenge-and-password set to the Continental Army for identifying friends and enemies when crossing military lines: "Query: Pulaski, response: Poland."

In 1929, Congress passed a resolution to recognize October 11 "General Pulaski Memorial Day," in order to recognize the "father of the American cavalry" and celebrate the heritage of Polish Americans. Several states and cities—Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadlephia and New York City among them—also have memorial days or parades that commemorate Pulaski's birth or death.

2. Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko

Kościuszko was the youngest son of a Polish noble living in the village of Mereczowszczyzna (in what is now Belarus, but was then part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). In 1765, he enrolled at the newly created Szkoła Rycerska (Knight Academy) in the Corps of Cadets, studying military subjects and the liberal arts. After graduating, Kościuszko and a colleague received royal scholarships and went to Paris, where Kościuszko studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. He decided that he did not want to be a painter, but could not transfer to a French military academy because he was a foreigner. He earned his own French military education, though, by going to free lectures and visiting the libraries of Paris' military academies.

polishamericansWhen Kościuszko returned home in 1774, there was no position for him in the army, which had been drastically reduced in the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He took a job tutoring the family of a governor instead and fell in love with the governor's daughter. The two planned to elope in the American colonies, but were tracked down and stopped by employees of the girl's father. Kościuszko received a beating from them which would inform his views on social pretense and class inequality.

The following year, he again left the Commonwealth, for Paris, where he learned about the war in the American colonies. KoÅ›ciuszko went to America and volunteered for the army. In 1776, Congress commissioned him as a Colonel of Engineers was then named head engineer of the Continental Army. He was sent to Pennsylvania to work on the fortification of Philadelphia. There, he constructed Fort Billingsport and fortified the banks of the Delaware River. He also got a chance to read the Declaration of Independence—he was so moved by it, he sought out a meeting with Thomas Jefferson. The two eventually became close friends.

From there, Kościuszko went on to oversee the construction of forts and military camps along the Canadian border, was given command of the military engineering works at West Point by George Washington and then oversaw more fort construction in the Southeast.

In 1783, Kościuszko was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and received American citizenship, a parcel of land, and memberships in the Society of the Cincinnati and the American Philosophical Society. The next year, he returned to Poland and settled in his home village. He would later defend his homeland in the Polish-Russian War of 1792 and receive Poland's highest military honor, the Virtuti Militari medal, for his actions at the Battle of Zieleńce.

Kościuszko's body is interred in a crypt at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków, the final resting place of many Polish kings and national heroes. His heart, removed from the body during embalming, is kept at a chapel at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

When King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski surrendered to the Russians in August of that year, Kościuszko fled to Leipzig, where Polish commanders and politicians were preparing an uprising against Poland's Russian occupiers. Kościuszko made a trip to Paris during this time to accept honorary citizenship in France, and to gain French support for the uprising in Poland.

The Second Partition of Poland in 1793, and the subsequent reduction of the army and mass arrests of Polish politicians and military commanders by Russian agents, forced Kościuszko to begin the uprising earlier than planned. After early victories, Kościuszko's forces were outnumbered at the Battle of Maciejowice, and Kościuszko was wounded and imprisoned in Saint Petersburg. The uprising ended with the Siege of Warsaw, Tomasz Wawrzecki's (the new commander of the uprising) surrender.

In 1796, Tsar Paul I of Russia pardoned and freed Kościuszko, who settled in France and remained politically active among the Polish émigrés. He died of typhoid fever in Solothurn, Switzerland, in October, 1817.

KoÅ›ciuszko's global freedom fighting made him a national hero in Poland, Lithuania, and the US, so he has received his fair share of tributes around the world, both great and small: from Kosciuszko Street in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, to Mount Kosciuszko in Australia; from Thomas Jefferson calling him "as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known," to an occasional salute from a certain blogger as he passes KoÅ›ciuszko's statue on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

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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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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