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Library of Congress

Fantastic 120-Year-Old Color Pictures of Ireland

Original image
Library of Congress

There's a lot more to the Emerald Isle than the supposed World’s Greatest Snake Exterminator. Need some proof? Just check out these photochrom prints of Ireland taken between 1890 and 1900 and organized by county, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

County Antrim

Royal Avenue, Belfast

While Belfast’s main shopping district was a popular target of IRA attacks in the seventies and eighties, most of the buildings in this image are still standing after all this time.

Rustic Bridge in Glenariff

With its picturesque trees and waterfalls, Glenariff Forest Park is quite a popular tourist destination these days. The area is nicknamed “Queen of the Glens”—the largest and most beautiful glen in the county.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Amazingly, this rope bridge linking Carrick Island to the mainland is still in use. It has become a major tourist attraction. To be fair, though, it has been redesigned and improved over the years to make it safer.

Portrush

While the beaches of Portrush are still a draw for tourists, the town is now also known for its dance clubs and Barry’s Amusements, the largest amusement park in Northern Ireland.

Giant's Causeway

You might recognize this famous icon from the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The weird natural design is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The hot lava cooled so fast that it created deep, giant cracks that eventually broke into the columns you see today.

County Wicklow

Vale of Avoca

The River Avoca flows only through the County Wicklow, where it starts off as two distinct rivers and then flows together at one point, known as the Vale of Avoca. This vale is located inside the town of Avoca, pictured here.

Poulaphouca Fall

The entire center of County Wicklow is made up of the Wicklow Mountains, which are naturally adorned with a number of rivers and stunning waterfalls like this one. This particular waterfall no longer exists since the Poulaphouca Reservoir was completed in 1940.

Bray

Up until the mid-1700s, Bray was a sleepy fishing village, but as the people of Dublin started to seek sanctuary outside the crowded city, the town’s population grew quickly. By the mid-1800s the town had become the largest seaside resort in the country. These days, Bray is home to the country's only dedicated film studios, Ardmore Studios. The company has produced such classics as Excalibur and Braveheart.

The Dargle Bridge

The River Dargle is named An Deargail in Gaelic, which translates to "little red spot." While it’s not obvious in this picture, the name is a reference to the fact that most rocks in the river are tinted red.

Enniskerry

While this small town only has a population of around 2,500, its gorgeous scenery (the town is located at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains) and close proximity to Bray make it a popular tourist destination year round.

County Dublin

Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

This beautiful hotel opened in 1824 and is still open for business, currently operating under the banner of Marriott International. The hotel even played an important role in Irish history. In 1922, it served as the meeting place for the creators of the Irish Constitution and room 112, where it was drafted, is now fittingly known as The Constitution Room.

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Officially known as the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Patrick, this icon of Ireland was founded all the way back in 1191 and now serves as the National Cathedral of Ireland. It also holds the record for the tallest church in Ireland, boasting a spire that stands 140 feet tall.

Phoenix Park, Dublin

No, this isn’t an early picture of the Washington Monument. The obelisk in the background is instead the Wellington Monument, found in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The obelisk is the tallest in Europe and is dedicated to the great deeds of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

County Cork

Roches Royal Hotel, Glengarriff Harbor

While this particular hotel may no longer be in business, the small town of Glengarriff (population 800) is still a popular tourist destination providing seaside views adorned with paired high mountain peaks and quaint peat bogs scattered across the town.

Glengarriff Harbor

The town is named for the Glengarriff Forest, Gleann Garbh in Gaelic, which means "rough glen.” The forest is indeed home to a rough glen and some of the oldest oak and birch groves left in Ireland.

Blackrock Castle

Blackrock Castle was originally constructed as a fort intended to keep away pirates and other potential threats. While a few remains of the original building still stand, most of it was destroyed in a fire in 1827 and replaced with the current structure that was completed in 1829. While the castle was used for a variety of purposes throughout the ages, it now serves as Ireland’s first fully interactive astronomy center, which is open to the public.

County Waterford

Dungarven Bridge and Harbor

The Gaelic name for this city is Dún Garbháin, which translates to "Garbhan's fort", referring to Saint Garbhan who founded a church there in the seventh century. These days, Dungarven is the administrative center of County Waterford.

The Quays, Waterford

Waterford is the oldest city in all of Ireland, established back in 914. One thousand years later and the city is still the fifth largest in the country. Of course, these days, Waterford is best known for its crystal. Sadly, Waterford Crystal shut down its factory in the town in 2009 after operating in the town for over 225 years. Thanks to the Waterford City Council and Waterford Chamber of Commerce, though, guests can now visit The Waterford Crystal Visitor Center instead.

County Kerry

Ross Castle, Killarney

This stunning castle looks largely the same now as it did back when this picture was taken, despite the recent renovations that have allowed it to become open to the public. Back in the late 1400s, this castle was one of the strongest military posts in the country. In fact, during the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1600s, it was one of the last castles to surrender; the leader of the battle only did so after the castle was attacked via water—something no one inside the stronghold saw coming.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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!

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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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