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The Quick 10: R.I.T.: Famous Tombstone Typos

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Typos are rarely a good thing, but when they’re literally set in stone – well, those are monumental mistakes. Check out eight famous pieces of garbled granite, along with two that look like errors but aren’t.

(Sorry for all of the bad puns. Sometimes I can’t help myself.)

1. James K. Polk, 10th President of the United States. If history buffs (and/or They Might Be Giants fans) just gasped in horror, they have good reason to – Polk was our 11th POTUS. But that’s not what his first epitaph said. It declared him “James Knox Polk 10th President of the U.S.” big and bold. It wasn’t until Polk’s grave was moved from his crumbling homestead to the State Capitol that the engraving was replaced with one that simply said “President of the U.S.” (pictured)

2. William Gaddis, the American novelist who wrote one of the 100 best English language novels of the last century, The Recongnitions. Ahem, that’s The Recognitions. But when the book was quoted on his gravestone when he died in 1998, the engraver spelled its name wrong.

3. Shelly Winters. When the actress died in 2006, a temporary tombstone was put on her gravesite so fans could pay their respects before the permanent stone was put in place. Even though it was the temp, Shelley’s family was still quite upset that her name was misspelled.

4. Boltus Roll. The famous golf course Baltusrol in New Jersey has been home to many PGA Championships and U.S. Opens since 1901, but the course can trace its origins to blood that’s not so blue. Baltusrol is named after a farmer named (surprise) Baltus Roll, who was pulled from his bed and brutally murdered on the grounds – then his farmland – in 1831. To add insult to (fatal) injury, his name was spelled “Boltus” on the stone that marks his final resting place.

5. Zora Neil Hurston. The author of Their Eyes Were Watching God was buried in an unmarked grave until Alice Walker’s “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” article of 1975 reignited public interest in the writer. She was found and a proper stone was put in place, but for “Zora Neil.” Walker paid to have it corrected.

7. Ben Johnson. Jonson was one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, but didn’t have enough money to be buried in Westminster Abbey as he so desperately wanted (so says one of the stories, anyway). The powers that be took pity on him when he finally did pass over, though, and granted him just enough space to be buried standing up in the apse wall.

8. Isaac Singer, Noble Prize winner. Isaac Singer won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978, but not according to his wife. His wife turned in documents for a tombstone that declared him a “Noble” laureate. The owner of the company that made the stone contacted Mrs. Singer and let her know about the typo; Mrs. Singer reportedly said, “Do it as I gave it to you.” So they did. It wasn’t corrected until 1993.

Two epitaphs that appear to contain errors:

9. Elvis Aaron Presley. It’s true; Elvis was born Elvis Aron Presley. Hardcore fans who believe he’s still alive insist the alternate spelling on his grave is a subtle hint from the King that he’s not really buried there, but there’s really a much simpler explanation: Elvis himself preferred the Biblical interpretation of his middle name. He even listed it as such in official documents later in his life. Out of respect, his middle name was spelled the way he preferred it on his gravestone.

10. Buddy Holley. The seemingly extraneous “e” is actually correct. Buddy dropped the vowel for his professional name, but his parents chose to bury him with the original spelling.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]