CLOSE
Original image
Bettmann/CORBIS

Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

Original image
Bettmann/CORBIS

Various people had their hands on it, adding as little as a word or two, but the credit for the bulk of the pledge goes to Francis Julius Bellamy (May 18, 1855 – August 28, 1931), a Baptist minister from New York. Bellamy had some interesting political ideas — he was a Christian Socialist who believed in the equal distribution of economic resources in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, but not the distribution of voting rights to women or immigrants.

By 1891, Bellamy was tired of his ministry and accepted a job from one of his congregants, Daniel S. Ford, owner and editor of Youth's Companion, a nationally circulated magazine for adolescents. Bellamy was hired to help out the magazine's premium department, where he worked on a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a way to solicit subscriptions. By the end of the year, the magazine had sold flags to some 26,000 schools. But there were still more than a few holdouts.

They gave the campaign a shot in the arm by arranging a patriotic program for schools to coincide with the opening of the 1892 Columbian Exposition in October, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World. Part of the program would be a new salute to the flag that schoolchildren would recite in unison. That August, just a few weeks before the exposition and mere days from his deadline, Bellamy sat down and composed the pledge. He approached it in part as a response to the Civil War, which was still fresh in the national memory, and decided to focus on the ideas of allegiance and loyalty.

Bellmay’s pledge was published in the September 8, 1892, issue of Youth's Companion as follows:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Initially, the pledge was accompanied with a salute (seen above). According to Bellamy’s instructions, “At a signal from the Principal, the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it.” The pledge would then be recited, and at the words “to my Flag,” the “right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

After the pledge had taken root in schools, people started fiddling with it. In 1923 a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, decided that “my flag” should be changed to “the flag of the United States,” so newly arrived immigrant children would not be confused about exactly which flag they were pledging to. The following year, the Flag Conference refined the phrase further, adding “of America.”

By 1942, the pledge's 50th anniversary, the pledge was ingrained in schools and many states required their public school students to recite it each morning. Around this time, people decided that the extended-arm salute looked a little too much like the Nazi salute, and began to simply keep the right hand over the heart throughout the whole pledge.

One Last Tweak

By the next decade, the Knights of Columbus — a Catholic fraternal organization — had adopted a modified pledge that mentioned God for use in their own meetings, and soon began lobbying Congress with calls for everyone to do the same. Other fraternal and religious organizations backed the idea and pushed the government hard. In 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut (D-Mich.), proposed an alteration to the pledge in a Congressional bill. Congress approved the addition of the words “under God” within the phrase “one nation indivisible” in an Act of Congress, and President Eisenhower got on board the next year at the suggestion of the pastor at his church.

The act was signed into law in 1954. Its sponsors, anticipating that it would be challenged as a breach of separation of church and state, wrote a disclaimer into the act explaining that the new phrase was not, in fact, religious. “A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," they wrote. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs." Of course, not everyone bought the line, and a succession of people all over the country have been challenging the language in the courts for the last half-century.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image
iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES