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Lost States: Montezuma

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We're thrilled to welcome a special guest blogger, the author of Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It. He'll be sharing tales from his book with us this week. Put your hands together for Mike Trinklein!

Montezuma: A Two-for-One Sale. And an Ill-Advised Handshake.

Today Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the United States—but at the beginning of the twentieth century, it had just 5,000 residents. This tiny population illustrated an ongoing problem for both the Arizona and New Mexico territories—neither one had enough people to be admitted as states.

As a result, several proposals were floated to bring the two territories into the Union together as just one state. The 1903 plan proposed that this superstate be named "Montezuma."

Democrats in Congress voted in favor of the idea, but they couldn't quite muster enough Republican support.

This wasn't the first time the Aztec emperor's name was appropriated. Back in 1887, leaders in New Mexico had proposed switching their territory's name to Montezuma—figuring it would make statehood more palatable to Americans who weren't too fond of any implied association with "old" Mexico. The ploy wasn't successful. They also tried the name "Lincoln" and that didn't work, either.

But you've got to admit that any name is better than "New Mexico"—which has to be the worst state name in America. I don't mean any disrespect to Mexico. The problem is that the name is confusing to stupid people. There is clear evidence of this on every New Mexico license plate. The government felt compelled to put "USA" after the state's name, because too many morons thought New Mexico was in, well, Mexico.

Speaking of stupidity, I have to mention the sorry tale of Stephen Elkins—the New Mexico Territory delegate to the United States Congress back in 1875. That year, population issues didn't seem to matter to Congress—and the Senate and House were both in favor of New Mexico statehood. But just before the final vote, Elkins entered the House floor and conspicuously shook hands with congressman Julius Burrows of Michigan.

That was a huge mistake.


Burrows had been extremely critical of southern racial policies—infuriating congressmen from states like Georgia and Alabama. So when the southern delegation saw Burrows fraternizing with Elkins, they immediately switched their votes. It was just enough to kill the statehood bill. One ill-advised handshake meant New Mexico would have to wait 37 more years to join the Union.


You can pick up Mike's book on Amazon. And if you can't wait for tomorrow's excerpt, check out the Lost States blog.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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