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How 5 Super-Rich Places Got Such Fancy Names

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1. Martha’s Vineyard

© Walter Bibikow/JAI/Corbis

This island, a regular presidential vacation destination and home to the Kennedy family, owes its name to the prolific explorer Bartholomew Gosnold.

Gosnold did a number of extraordinary things in his short life. He gave both Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod their names. He pioneered the quickest way to sail from Great Britain to the northeastern seaboard of America. It was Gosnold who recruited John Smith for his Jamestown expedition. And a published account of his voyage in 1602 was responsible for popularizing the colonization of New England.

Martha's Vineyard is named after a daughter of Gosnold who died in infancy. Originally the name was applied to a much smaller island; a “place most pleasant” according to a contemporary source. The larger island was actually called Martin's Vineyard, after the captain of the ship Gosnold was sailing on, for much of its history. Eventually the feminine name came to stand for the larger island as well. Martha's Vineyard is the eighth-oldest surviving place name the United States.

You can visit the grave of little Martha in the churchyard of Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, England. But if you like your viewings to be more up close and personal, head to the National Museum of Natural History. A 2003 excavation found what they believe to be the remains of Gosnold at the Jamestown settlement, and his bones are currently on display through January 2013 in an exhibition entitled “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake.”

2. Beverly Hills

Sign image via Shutterstock

You’d be forgiven for thinking Beverly Hills was named after a woman named Beverly. In actuality, this exclusive area of Los Angeles has a long and strange etymology.

The area we now call Beverly Hills was a series of ranches until it was purchased in the 1880s by two men named Charles Denker and Henry Hammel. Their ultimate ambition was to turn the area into a “North-African themed subdivision called Morocco.” Severe drought and an economic collapse forced them to sell the land in 1900 to the Amalgamated Oil Company. After the company failed to find oil under the land, they changed their name to Rodeo Land and Water Company and called the area Beverly Hills, after Beverly Farms in Massachusetts.

Beverly Farms itself is named after the town of Beverly, which it skirts. The town was once a popular tourist resort; President Taft had a summer house there. It also claims to be the birthplace of the U.S. Navy, although this is debated. In 1668, English settlers named the town after the village of Beverley in Yorkshire, England.

So why was this English town called Beverley? Because in the 700s, a bishop named John founded a monastery in the town of Inderawuda and called it Beverlac, possibly after a colony of beavers in a nearby river. Eventually a slightly altered version of the name came to stand for the whole town, and Bishop John became known as St. John of Beverley after his canonization in 1037.

There you have it: Beverly Hills is actually named after some medieval English beavers.

3. Fisher Island

Aerial view via Shutterstock

This elite island just off the Florida mainland had the highest per capita income in America in 2010 and is home to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, and Andre Agassi. The island is named after Carl G. Fisher, who owned it from 1919-1925. Fisher was an entrepreneur, and as wealthy and interesting as any of the people who now inhabit his island.

Fisher was a larger than life character. He married one woman while engaged to another. He set up and participated in many crazy automotive and bicycle stunts, often injuring himself. He was played a key role in starting the Indianapolis 500. He palled around with Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Edison. And for most of his life he was filthy stinking rich.

Born in 1874, Fisher suffered from a severe astigmatism, which greatly limited his sight. Despite this, he went into business, opening a small bicycle shop with his brother. His interest soon moved from bikes to cars and his first big break came when he bought a share in the patent of the first car headlights in 1904. When he sold his share nine years later he made $9 million.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Fisher went on to open the first car lot in America, advance various areas of motor racing, and conceived and developed the Lincoln Highway, the first interstate highway that stretched 3,400 miles across the whole country.

© CORBIS

Having tired of automobiles, he turned to real estate. Miami as we know it would not exist without Fisher, who was instrumental in the development of the area. To draw national attention to Miami, he set up a photo op of then-President Warren Harding using an elephant as a caddy on a Miami golf course.

The Florida real estate bubble burst in 1925, so Fisher moved his interests to Long Island. Since he no longer had need for his private island, he traded it to William Vanderbilt for an expensive yacht.

Fisher lost most of his money in the stock market crash of 1929 and considered himself a failure. His opinion was unfounded though, and in 1998 a panel of historians voted him one of the 50 most influential people in Florida’s history.

4. Nob Hill

© Morton Beebe/CORBIS

This neighborhood in San Francisco has always been affluent. Its expansive views and central location meant that land on the hill was in high demand as San Francisco boomed in the late 1800s. Once cable car tracks were laid up the hill, it became more accessible and thus attracted newly minted railroad and gold rush barons. Some of the most important people in California built mansions on the hill, including the founder and president of Stanford University.

The present-day walking tour “Hobnobbing with Gobs of Snobs” gives insight into some of these characters. Most of them made their money through illicit means like insider trading, illegal monopolies, and money laundering. They used their ill-gotten gains to build some of the biggest houses in America at the time; huge Victorian structures where no marble was too expensive, no ballroom too large. The daughters of some of these men married into the English aristocracy, thereby cementing Nob Hill’s worldwide prestige.

After the earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed most of these great homes, the plutocrats moved away and exclusive hotels took their places.
These days Nob Hill is also known as Snob Hill, but that portmanteau is unnecessary since the 19th-century locals got there first. The “Nob” in Nob Hill was slang for someone who is “wealthy and distinguished.” Some etymologists theorize that it came from the word nabob, which was an old English term for a snob. So not only is Nob Hill an affluent neighborhood, it even owes its name to that fact.

5. The Hamptons

Hamptons image via Shutterstock

According to legend, this posh area of Long Island is named after the even posher Earl of Southampton. Thomas Wriothesley, the 4th Earl when Southampton was founded in 1640, was a Cambridge-educated aristocrat. He eventually rose to one of the most powerful political offices in Britain, that of Lord High Treasurer. Wriothesley managed to support both sides during the English Civil War, but kept his head. Since the town of Southampton was the first to be settled in that area, and since the other Hamptons (Bridgehampton, East Hampton, etc.) take their names from that town, all of them can claim to owe their name to the Earl.

However, according to the Easthampton Historical Society, that just isn’t true. “19th century snobbishness” may have resulted in locals spreading that story around, since being connected, however tangentially, to aristocracy was a big deal in late-1800s America. According to their records, Southampton was more likely named because it resembled the town of Southampton in England (no connection to the Earl), with “hamp” meaning pasture. The Native Americans had deforested much of Long Island and farmed it, so the open, flat land bordered by a coarse, brown sandy beach probably evoked memories of the south coast of England.

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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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