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5 Big Cities That Changed Their Names

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The Four Lads sang a song in 1953 about a city that changed its name.

Take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'

Constantinople isn't the only city to change its name. I grew up learning about Bombay, Canton, Leningrad, and Saigon (especially Saigon), but those names aren't used much anymore. Here are the stories of a few city names, new and old.

1. Bombay is now Mumbai

The big city in the state of Maharashtra, India was called Kakamuchee and Galajunkja in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as Manbai. There is still disagreement about how the name Bombay came about. On the one hand, Bombay is seen as an English corruption of Mumbai, which is a name derived from the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. On the other hand, the name may have come from bom baim, a Portuguese phrase meaning "good little bay", although there are doubts due to the issue of the word genders. The city was ruled by Portugal from 1535 to 1661. Variation of the name included Mombayn, Bombay, Bombain, Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, and Boon Bay, all of which are documented spellings. When the British took possession of the city in 1661, they put a stop to all this nonsense and decided the name would be Bombay. India achieved independence from the British Empire in 1947. The idea of a new, purely Indian name gained favor over the years and became a political campaign in the 1980s and 90s. When the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won a majority of seats in the state assembly in 1995, the name Mumbai, which was commonly used in some local languages, was officially adopted. The name is a return to India's past and a homage to Mumbadevi, the goddess who is the patron saint of the city. Image by Flickr user d ha rm e sh.

2. Canton is now Guangzhou

The city of Guangzhou, China was founded under the name Panyu in 214 BC. Four hundred years later, it was named the capital of Guang prefecture and people began to call the city Guangzhou, which literally means Guang prefecture. Portugal established a trading monopoly in Guangdong province in the 1500s, and the name Cantão began to be used, which became Canton. No one is quite sure how the name Cantão or Canton actually came about, but it is believed to be a European phonetic mispronunciation of Guangzhou or Guangdong. The name Guangzhou was officially adopted by the city in 1918. So the city was never officially named Canton at all! Nevertheless, westerners used Canton on maps and travel schedules, and in geography and travel books until the late 20th century. Image by Flickr user Gijs Budel.

3. Saigon is now Hồ Chí Minh City

The original name of the Kmer village that eventually became Saigon was Prey Nokor. The earliest reference to the name Sài Gòn was in 1698, as the village was taken from Cambodia by the Vietnamese. It is thought that the term Sài Gòn was a Vietnamese translation of the Kmer words Prei Kor, which means Kapok Tree Forest or City of Kapok Trees. The area was actually a swamp, but its location made it a strategic seaport. The small fishing village grew into a modern city under the French, who took over in 1859 and called it Saigon. Saigon became the capital of Vietnam in 1949, and when the country split in 1954, Saigon remained the capital of South Vietnam. About that time, Saigon merged with Cholon on the other side of the Saigon River. No matter how it evolved, the name Saigon was a symbol of colonialism, so when the north defeated the south in 1975, the city lost its status as capital. The following year it was officially renamed for the deceased communist leader Hồ Chí Minh. Image by Flickr user Andrin Villa.

4. St. Petersburg is now St. Petersburg (again)

The original name of the small Russian town that became St. Petersburg is long gone, but it was only a tiny village before the Tsar arrived. Tsar Peter the Great, in his quest to make Russia more modern and therefore more European, named it St. Petersburg in 1703 and moved the government and the royal family to the city in 1710. He named the city in honor of St. Peter the evangelist, although most folks knew it was a roundabout way to name the city after himself. The "burg" was a nod to his relatives and allies in Germany. It became a large and modern city under Peter's rule. In 1914, World War I broke out and Germany was suddenly Russia's enemy. St. Petersburg became Petrograd, which still meant the City of Peter, rendered in the Russian language. After the communist revolution, even the name Petrograd didn't seem Russian enough. After Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the city was renamed Leningrad in honor of the Soviet leader. In 1991, Russia held its first presidential election following the collapse of the Soviet government. On the same day, citizens of Leningrad voted in a referendum to change the name of Leningrad back to its historic moniker, St. Petersburg. Image by Flickr user Archie Dinzeo.

5. Constantinople is now Istanbul

The former capital of Turkey has been known by many names: Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye. Ä°stanbul, Stamboul, and Islambol, among others. The city was founded in 667 BC and named Byzantium by the Greeks after Byzas, the king of Megara. The city was later absorbed into the Roman Empire, where it had several names. Emperor Constantine made it his eastern capital and it became Constantinople, the name that stuck in western ears for over a thousand years while the locals called the city by different names. Istanbul is a word that means "the city" and had been used colloquially for the last few hundred years to refer to the Turkish capital. Officials used the name off and on, but in 1930 the postal service decreed that all addresses in the city would be "Ä°stanbul". The i is dotted on the initial capital because the pronunciation is different from the dotless i in Turkish, although Istanbul is accepted in all other languages. Image by Flickr user maistora.

Bonus: Truth or Consequences

In 1950, the town of Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences after the radio quiz show of the same name. The change was in response to the show's host promising to broadcast from the first town that named itself after the program. Thus began a fifty-year tradition of broadcasting the show from the town once a year, first on radio and later on television. The name stayed, although residents call it "T or C" now. Read more stories of American towns that changed their names for one reason or another in the post 7 Towns That Changed Their Names (And 4 That Almost Did). Image by Flickr user Kristen Taylor.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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