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CC by 2.0 // Flickr // JGNY

10 Uninhabited Islands and Why Nobody Lives on Them

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CC by 2.0 // Flickr // JGNY

The internet has embraced the story of Brendon Grimshaw over the past couple of weeks. Grimshaw did what so many dream of doing: he bought an island. He purchased Moyenne Island in the Indian Ocean in 1964 for $20,000, quit his job in 1973 to move there, and spent the past 40 years developing it into a paradise, cultivating and protecting flora and fauna native to the Seychelles. Now 86, Grimshaw's island is worth millions to developers, but he is determined that it remain a nature preserve after his death.

There are still many abandoned and uninhabited islands around the world. Why isn't there anyone living on them? After all, 270 people live on Tristan de Cunha, which is 2430 kilometers from the next inhabited island! The reasons islands remain uninhabited are financial, political, environmental, or religious -or a combination of those reasons.

1. ?kunoshima Island

?kunoshima

Three kilometers off the coast of Japan, ?kunoshima Island is overrun with rabbits, which are not a native species. But there are no human residents on Okunoshima Island. It was once the site of a chemical weapons plant, turning out poison gas for the Japanese Imperial Army from 1929 to 1945. The Allied Occupation Forces dismantled the plant and let laboratory animals go free (hence the rabbits). Japan did not speak of Okunoshima for many years. Then in 1988, the ?kunoshima Poison Gas Museum was opened on the site. Tourists take the ferry to the island to interact with the friendly rabbits more than to see the museum. Photograph by Flickr user GetHiroshima.

2. Antipodes Islands

The Antipodes are a group of volcanic islands south of New Zealand. The cold climate and harsh winds make the islands too harsh a place to live. It is known for numerous shipwrecks and deaths, some from trying to survive on the islands, despite supplies being left there in castaway huts, as seen in the photograph. Two people died by shipwreck there as recently as 1999.

3. Jaco Island

Jaco Island in East Timor has no permanent inhabitants because locals consider it sacred land. However, that does not mean they won't accommodate tourists. Day trips as well as camping on the island is encouraged. Local fishermen double as vendors to the tourists. Since 2007, Jaco Island is part of Nino Konis Santana National Park.

4. Clipperton Island

Clipperton Island is actually a coral atoll south of Mexico and west of Guatemala in the Pacific. It was claimed first by the French, then Americans, who mined it for guano. Mexico took possession in 1897, and allowed a British company to mine guano there. In 1914, the Mexican civil war caused the island's 100 or so residents to be cut off from transportation and supplies. In 1917, the last surviving islanders, three women, were rescued and evacuated. Ownership reverted to France, which manned a lighthouse on Clipperton Island, but after World War II it was completely abandoned. There are occasional scientific expeditions to the atoll.

5. North Brother Island

How can an island in the East River in New York City be forgotten? Ah, because it’s a protected nesting area, and therefore off-limits to the public. Still, North Brother Island has quite a history. Riverside Hospital opened a quarantine facility for smallpox patients on the 20-acre island in 1885. The hospital later took in patients with other communicable diseases, such as venereal disease and typhoid. It was here that Typhoid Mary was housed for two decades until her death in 1938. The hospital closed in 1942, but the buildings were used for veteran's housing for a while, then as a rehab center for young drug addicts, but corruption, abuse, and rights violations forced the facility to close for good in 1963. The buildings still stand in their ruined state, and are said to be haunted by the many who died or suffered there. Photo via CC by 2.0 // Flickr // JGNY

6. Battleship Island

Hashima Island in Japan is often referred to as Battleship Island because that's what it looks like. About 15 kilometers from Nagasaki, the island sat above a profitable coal seam that was mined from 1887 until 1974. Miners and their families lived on the island, which is only around 15 acres. At its height, Hashima Island had over 5,000 residents, densely packed into large apartment blocks. When the coal business fizzled, those buildings were left empty and derelict. It became dangerous to even set foot on the island. However, the uninhabited island was opened to tourism in 2009. Photograph by Wikipedia user Hisagi.

7. Fort Carroll Island

In 1847, the U.S. military built Fort Carroll to protect Baltimore right in the middle of the Patapsco River. The site was selected because experience showed that a defensive fort built too close to a city created more problems than it solved. The artificial island was built under the supervision of a young Robert E. Lee, who also designed the island's hexagonal shape. The fort was still incomplete by the time the Civil War began. Construction was halted, and by the time the war was over, the facility's insufficiency became obvious. The fort was modernized, but not in time to be of much use during the Spanish-American War. Every time the fort was slowly modernized, it became obsolete again. By 1921, the army had abandoned Fort Carroll for good. The island was sold to a private developer in 1958, but various plans to use it proved too difficult and expensive to carry out. The fort remains, though slowly crumbling into ruin. Photograph by Wikipedia user Acroterion.

8. Lazzaretto Nuovo

Lazzaretto Nuovo is an island situated at the entrance of the lagoon that envelops Venice, Italy. It was a monastery in medieval times, then in 1468 was designated as a quarantine area for any ships approaching Venice, to protect the city from the plague. This continued until the 18th century, when the quarantine facilities were abandoned, and the Lazzeretto Nuovo eventually became a military base. The Italian Army abandoned the site in 1975, and it suffered years of neglect. Then community efforts turned it into a cultural museum site, now supported by the Italian Ministry of Arts and Culture. The island is now open for tourism.

9. Tree Island

Tree Island in the South China Sea is one of the Paracel Islands under disputed ownership. It is administered by China's Hainan Province, but like the other Paracel Islands, is claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan as well. Tourists can visit the island with permission, but the only inhabitants are military troops who are stationed there temporarily.

10. Palmyra Atoll

Palmyra Atoll is 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, and is a territory owned by the United States. However, as isolated as it is, it is officially uninhabited and unorganized. The U.S. military built an airstrip there during World War II, which has fallen into ruin. The atoll now is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, with the exception of Cooper Island, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy. Palmyra Atoll was the setting for a double murder in 1974 which became the basis for the novel and then miniseries called And the Sea Will Tell.

If you want to buy an island for yourself, there are real estate agents who specialize in such deals. And there are plenty of islands for sale -just make sure you find out why it is uninhabited or for sale before you close the deal!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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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