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Library of Congress

18 Vintage Photos From Thanksgivings Past

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Library of Congress

The way we get our turkeys and how we prepare them has changed quite a bit. It wasn’t long ago that when you got your bird, you got the whole darn thing—usually with the feathers, beak, feet and all, just like this gentleman photographed back in 1910.

Of course, that incredible level of freshness also meant there was less risk of salmonella poisoning from just handling the bird. After all, how many of you would ever let your youngster carry around your Thanksgiving turkey like this little one did in 1919?

On the downside, that also meant you had to spend even more time prepping your meal. Plucking the bird was the first step, and it was time consuming, as you can see from this image taken sometime around 1900.

These days, we’re used to eating broad-breasted whites, which are much less gamey and have a lot more white meat than other breeds of turkeys. As you can tell by the look of this finished roast from 1940, our modern birds also are a lot more stout and plump than the varieties eaten in the past.

While the big White House Thanksgiving tradition these days is the turkey pardon, that only started in 1989. Before that, the biggest presidential tradition involved with the holiday was the same one we all enjoy: a Thanksgiving feast. And from the looks of this 1921 photograph showing two men toting in one of many turkeys for President Harding, the White House must have hosted one heck of a feast.

Turkey may be the main course from the holiday, but the focus of Thanksgiving has always been spending time with your loved ones. Even in 1942, when many workers did their jobs on the holiday in order to help out the boys on the front lines, families like the Blackwelders still took time out from their busy day at the factory to enjoy a meal together.

Of course, the war didn’t stop all the traditional Thanksgiving get-togethers. The Finchams must have been all too thankful when they were able to enjoy their holiday meal with their two Coast Guard sons and two of their friends from the military.

Whatever the year, Thanksgiving has always been an opportunity to spend time with your family, whether that means hunting together like the two Crouch boys here…

Or just catching up on the news together like these two Crouches did in 1940.

Sometimes preparing a particular part of the meal takes more than one family member. Earle Landis needed his youngest son to help by sitting on the lid of the ice cream maker to keep it closed as the ice cream started to harden.

Of course, most of the meal preparation was left to the men’s wives and daughters, and while Mr. Landis and his son made some ice cream, Mrs. Landis prepared the turkey, the sides and all the pies in the oven.

In the end, the hard work and preparation certainly pay off when everyone sits down and enjoys a delicious meal together. That holds true today just as it did in the home of Earle Landis back in 1942.

And if you’ve wondered how long the concept of a “kids' table” has been around, well, this picture of the Crouch family Thanksgiving confirms that it’s been common since at least 1940.

Not everyone has a home cooked meal on Thanksgiving though, and restaurants have always managed to do pretty well on the holiday thanks to those who just don’t feel like slaving over a hot stove all day. I don’t quite know what to tell you about this sign though—whether it’s talking about giving your wife the turkey as a pet, or saying that your wife is a pet. What do you guys think?

Here’s one Thanksgiving tradition that you probably aren’t familiar with. It’s called “masking” and it involves children dressing up in costume and going from door to door in hopes of getting candy—essentially, trick or treating on Thanksgiving rather than Halloween.

Aside from going door to door for treats, maskers also participated in a “scramble for pennies,” when an adult would throw a handful of coins to the youngsters and watch them rabidly reach and grab for the change.

While records indicate the activity started back in 1780, it seems to have really caught on with the kiddies around 1900. Unfortunately, newspaper editors and parents found it to be incredibly offensive for children to go around begging in the streets, particularly on a day they considered to be so somber, and they banded together to stop the activity, successfully eradicating it by 1940. As a huge fan of Halloween, I think we should bring this tradition back!

Masking wasn’t the only tradition children participated in though. Just as today, many of them participated in pageants reenacting the first Thanksgiving. Here is one such event that took place in 1911.

Now that you know how people have celebrated Thanksgiving for the last 100 or so years, hopefully you can feel a little more thankful enjoying your family’s traditional get-together. But if you do get bored, you can always try to inject some life into your celebration by bringing back the forgotten tradition of masking—it’s a surefire way to bring some fun into your family occasion.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]