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6 Articles of Clothing That Caused Riots

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The clothes may make the man, but sometimes it's what the clothes make the man do that makes the story. Throughout history there have been more than a few instances of an article of clothing actually inciting a riot. Here are some examples.

1. A Top Hat

In 1797, London haberdasher John Hetherington was hauled into court on charges of breaching the King's peace, found guilty, and ordered to pay a £50 fine. His crime? Wearing a silk top hat, or, as it was described in court, "appearing on the public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shining lustre and calculated to frighten timid people." According to contemporary reports, people booed, dogs barked, women fainted, and a small boy suffered a broken arm after a crowd formed around the hapless Mr. Hetherington.

Top hats were evidently outlawed in London for a time after that, although not for very long—50 years later, Prince Albert boosted the hat's popularity in England by wearing one, and establishing the primacy of the top hat for generations to come. In America, it's virtually impossible to picture Abraham Lincoln without it, Monopoly just wouldn't be the same without it, and what else would Uncle Sam possibly wear?

2. Straw Hats

Acceptance of the top hat grew and by the 1920s, women didn't faint and dogs didn't bark at seeing gentlemen attired thusly. But the straw hat, however, that's a different story.

Over several nights in September 1922, gangs of hundreds of young thugs terrorized Manhattan, destroying any "unseasonable straw hat" they found. According to contemporary New York Times reports, these fashion vigilantes were armed with sticks, some with nails at the ends, and forced men in straw hats to run "gauntlets" of fists and boots. The streets were littered with broken and trampled straw hats and the remains of straw hat bonfires, the police were called in to disperse the unruly hat-haters, and hat stores were forced to stay open late to accommodate the newly hatless.

According to the Times, the hat-smashers were gangs of mostly young boys who took very seriously the September 15th end of straw hat season.

While Magistrate Peter A. Hatting (no, really) upheld the inalienable right of a man to wear a straw hat "in a January snowstorm if he wishes," the hat-smashers disagreed, choosing instead to attack any straw-hatted person and destroy their hat for them. Dozens were arrested and fined over the course of the riots and people, including several off-duty and presumably straw hat-wearing police officers, were injured.

Oddly, this same scenario had unfolded only eight years earlier, in Bridgeton, New Jersey, when the official end of hat season was September 1. The hat-snatching started as a fraternity prank, but quickly turned violent as people got rowdy and hat-wearers began to fight back. Eventually, the police and fire department had to be called in to subdue the rioters and a good number of them were hauled into court.

3. A Soccer Jersey

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Soccer fans have never had much difficulty finding things to riot about, enjoying a reputation as some of the most rabid of sports fans. But back in 1910, it was an article of clothing that reportedly prompted a riot at a soccer match. Evidently, famous goalkeeper Leigh Richmond Roose caused a fracas when he played as a guest for the Port Vale team in a reserves match against his former club, Stoke—and insisted on wearing his old Stoke City jersey. Even though he won Man-of-the-Match, that didn't stop the rioting fans and players.

4. Trouser Skirts

Paris takes its fashion very, very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that wearing the wrong thing has actually caused a riot.

In 1911, two rival Parisian couture houses launched their "trouser skirts," an innovation in fashion that trod the very fixed line between the genders and seemed to promise greater flexibility for women in general. There were two different versions of the trouser skirt: One was a sort of baggy pant with a very low hanging crotch, described as "a sack with holes made for the legs to go through," not unlike the fashions on high streets today, and the other a pair of the same kind of pants topped with an over-skirt, again, not unlike high street fashions of today. Both versions were launched by models at the opening day of racing season to general revulsion and disgust, but thankfully, no violence.

It wasn't until the ladies attempted to promenade their future fashions on the boulevards that the fisticuffs started—at the Place de l'Opera, the poor models were attacked by a jeering mob of fashion Philistines, who pulled their hair, trampled their hats, and reduced them to tears. A squad of police officers on bicycles were dispatched to rescue the girls and escort them to safety.

5. Sheath Skirts

Riots in Paris we get—people in Paris love any excuse, good or not, to riot—but at anything-goes Coney Island? Bizarre, but true.

In 1908, two women clad in daring sheath, or Directoire, skirts—very tight, though long, skirts—were forced to take refuge in an automobile from an angry, pressing crowd until they were rescued by police. According to a contemporary report from the New York Times, the two women, attired in "steel gray" and "livid purple" respectively, in front of a restaurant with their dates. The couples were attempting to go to dinner when a crowd began to form around the women, "craning their necks and making remarks that did not please the wearers of the skirts."

The women were forced back into the car by the several hundred men and women crowding around them; the local policeman had to call in reserves in order to disperse the mob.

6. Any Clothes at All

In March 2009, a tourist was blamed for a "mini-riot" at a swinging sex party at an Australian nudist camp after he refused to remove his clothing. Really.

According to the owner of the White Cockatoo Resort in North Queensland, where the fracas occurred, the fight started when four female guests were confronted by one clothed man. The women complained that if he was going to see them naked, they ought to get to see him naked as well. The owner asked the man to remove his clothes, the man got angry, some "argy-bargy" (whatever that means) followed, the man was kicked off the premises, and the police were called.

This story originally appeared in 2009.

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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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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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