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6 Other Types of Eyeglasses

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1. Pince-nez

When you see a pair of pince-nez, which, in French, literally means "to pinch the nose," you probably think of President Teddy Roosevelt. He was famous for wearing a C-bridge type of pince-nez. However, pince-nez first appeared in Europe in the 15th century. But they didn't become fashionable in the U.S. until the end of the 19th century and were already waning in popularity by the time Teddy Roosevelt became president. Pince-nez were worn by both men and women, but the ones made for women were usually rimless and suspended on fine gold chains. Pince-nez came in three main styles: hard bridge, C-bridge, and spring bridge, which were considered "sporty." The hard bridge, which had to be fitted to the width of your nose, were actually used through the 1950s.

2. Monocle

Although the monocle was used as far back as 1720 by antiques connoisseur Philipp Von Stosch to examine treasures, the simplest form of monocles were not found in England until the 1830s. These consisted of a corrective lens in a wire frame, but were improved in the 1890s by adding a raised "gallery" which held the lens slightly off the eye to keep eyelashes from knocking against it. The final improvement came in the early 20th century when frameless monocles were custom fit to the shape of an individual eye. Although monocles are most often associated with the upper crust, gentlemen in the 19th century and upper-class German officers during World War I, Vision Express Eyewear in England debuted a new line of monocles at the end of 2009 in its London shops. The retailer says that it had many requests for monocles—yes, fashion is a circular as, well, as a monocle.

3. Quizzing glasses

Quizzing glasses, or quizzers as they're sometimes called, are similar to monocles, however, you hold them up to your eye by a handle, much like opera glasses (see No. 6). The lenses came in three variety of shapes: round, oval, or oblong. Quizzers, like other early eyeglasses, were often elaborate and intricate. The outer rims were often faceted, pinkbeck, decorated with turqoise, or even encrusted with diamonds. The loop, which attached to a chain so that you wouldn't lose the glasses, were works of art as well. Some interesting examples of loop designs include a dolphin swallowing its own head, a Roman harp, and back-to-back Chinese dragons.

4. Scissor-glasses

Scissor-glasses, or binocles-ciseaux in French, originated around the second half of the 18th century. They were primarily used to correct distance vision and were invented to replaced the single lens quizzing glasses, which were believed to tire the eye. Scissor-glasses were often very ornate, yet delicate, made of gold or vermeil with precious stones. Consisting of two arms on a fixed base, the glasses usually had a loop on the bottom so that they could be worn around the neck on a ribbon or gold chain. In post-revolutionary France these were an important and tres chic accessory. George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette and Napoleon were all known to have used binocles-ciseaux.

5. Lorgnette

The lorgnette is believed to have developed from the scissor glasses by an Englishman named George Adams. With two lenses on a lateral handle, it quickly became popular with fashionable ladies in the 18th century and continued to be popular through the end of the 19th century. The word lorgnette derives from the Middle French word lorgne. which means "to squint." These glasses were, like scissor glasses, considered more jewelry than corrective eye-wear. The lorgnette was also a popular accessory for masquerade balls. This design led to modern opera glasses.

6. Opera glasses

An adaptation of the lorgnette, opera glasses also used a handle to hold the glasses in front of the eyes. Also known as "theatre binoculars" or Galilean binoculars, opera glasses differ from binoculars as they are more compact, and are able to focus easily indoors and at short distances. Opera glasses became popular in the 1820s when theater owners wanted to give patrons in cheaper seats the same advantage of front row seats. Although, they were more often used to scope out other operagoers than watch the performance. You may recall that President Lincoln had a pair of these on him at the Ford theater that fated night. They are estimated to be worth around $4.25 million! Like the opera itself, the opera glasses are most often elegant, intricate, and elaborate.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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