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13 Peaceful Protests and Whether They Worked

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© Julie Dermansky/Julie Dermansky/Corbis

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have been going on for over a month. From one side, we hear that the occupiers are a bunch of naive kids who need to change out of their hemp ponchos and take a shower if they want to be taken seriously. Others say the demonstrators are using the only means at their disposal to voice their frustrations and effect change.

To bring perspective to the debate, we've looked through the past 200 years of peaceful protests, from tragic to triumphant to just plain weird.

1. Cherokee Indian Resistance to Forced Relocation (1838)

Objective: Avoid having their land seized by the United States government

Method of Protest: Cherokees stood their ground, and made no preparations to move.

Results: U.S. troops destroyed the homes and property of the resisting Cherokees, forcing them to move west on a journey that would leave approximately 4,000 dead from disease and starvation.

Was the Protest a Success? No. The path the Cherokees took from their homes is still knows as the Trail of Tears.

2. Gandhi’s Salt March (1930)

Objective: Independence of Colonial India from British Authority

Method of Protest: To avoid paying the British tax on salt, Gandhi decided to get his own salt. To do this, he walked 240 miles over the course of 24 days, joined by a growing number of followers.

Results: Gandhi was jailed, but the protest drew national attention to his cause and he was eventually released.

Was the Protest a Success? Not immediately, but it is considered a watershed moment for India’s struggle for independence, which was finally obtained two decades later.

3. The White Rose Resistance (1942–1943)

Objective: Undermine the Nazi Rule of Germany

Method of Protest: Distributing leaflets that philosophically challenged the ideas of the Nazis.

Results: The six main members of the group were arrested and beheaded.

Was the Protest a Success? No

4. The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956)

Objective: Lessen racial segregation and inequality for blacks in the American South

Method of Protest: Montgomery’s black population refused to use public transportation.

Results: An Alabama district court ruled that the racial segregation was unlawful. The decision was appealed but upheld by the Supreme Court.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes. It also served as the impetus for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

5. The Kent State Demonstrations (1970)

Caitlin Mirra / Shutterstock.com

Objective: Get President Nixon to stop the invasion of Cambodia and end the war in Vietnam

Method of Protest: Four days of protests and marches

Results: The National Guard fired 67 rounds into the demonstration, killing four and injuring nine.

Was the Protest a Success? Hard to say. While there were no immediate changes in U.S. foreign policy, it did spark many additional protests across the country, which may have had a hand in ending the war.

6. The Tree Sitters of Pureora (1978)

Objective: Stop deforestation of the Pureora forest in New Zealand

Method of Protest: Built tree houses, refused to leave them

Results: The Government agreed to permanently stop logging operations and the area became a park.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes. It has also inspired many other tree-sitting protests, with varying levels of success.

7. Tiananmen Square Protests (1989)

Objective: Political reform and free media in the authoritarian Chinese government

Method of Protest: Seven weeks of peaceful marches and demonstrations

Results: The People's Liberation Army of China opened fire on the protesters. The exact death toll of the massacre is still unknown; estimates range from 200 and 10,000.

Was the Protest a Success? No. The current Chinese government does not acknowledge the killings. All online information about the massacre is censored in China.

8. The Lust Lady Strike of San Francisco (1997)

Objective: Ability for strippers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady club to form a union

Method of Protest: Strippers went on strike protesting outside the club and asking patrons not to enter unless the women were allowed to form a union.

Results: After a lengthy legal battle, the dancers were permitted to form a union

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

9. The Singing Revolution (1986-1991)

Objective: Independence from the former Soviet Union for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Method of Protest: Protesters gathered in the streets where they sang songs of national pride, which had been outlawed by the Soviet occupiers.

Results: After four years of demonstrations, many involving song, and the deaths of 14 protesters in Lithuania, all three countries gained sovereignty.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

10. Demonstration against Invading Iraq (2003)

Objective: Stop the United States from invading Iraq

Method of Protest: An estimated 6 to 10 million people around the world publicly protested the impending war.

Results: The invasion of Iraq happened anyway.

Was the Protest a Success? No. We still have troops in Iraq to this day.

11. The “Lactivists” at Applebee’s (2007)

Objective: Stop discrimination against public breastfeeding at Applebee’s Restaurants

Method of Protest: A “Nurse-in” was scheduled — across the country, breastfeeding mothers would nurse their infants in plain view of Applebee’s.

Results: Applebee’s put out a statement saying “This situation has provided an opportunity for us to work with our associates to ensure we’re making nursing mothers feel welcome….we will also accommodate other guests who would be more comfortable moving to another area of the restaurant.”

Was the Protest a Success? Yes

12. The Wisconsin Teachers Strike (2011)

Matt Apps / Shutterstock.com

Objective: Keep collective bargaining rights for teachers unions in Wisconsin

Method of Protest: For nearly five months, public demonstrations of as many as 100,000 protesters gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol Building.

Results: The Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers, was not repealed.

Was the Protest a Success? No, though there are still several lawsuits pending against the bill.

13. The Nuts of Jericho (2007)

Objective: Get the post-apocalyptic TV show Jericho renewed for a second season

Method of Protest: In reference to a scene in the season finale, Jericho fans sent over 20 tons of assorted nuts to the offices of the CBS executives who had canceled the show.

Results: The show was renewed for a second season.

Was the Protest a Success? Yes, though Jericho was again canceled after the second season. The third season was released as a series of comic books.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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