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6 Beachy Facts to Take to the Shore

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Heading for the coast this weekend? Be the talk of the sand dunes with these facts.

1. This Shell Is So Money!

Indigenous peoples historically used shells as cash, but they weren’t just grabbing handfuls of clams to buy groceries. From the 1st century CE onward, the currency that filled purses in Asia and the Pacific was the abandoned home of a small snail called the money cowry, prevalent in the Maldives. Its use spread throughout the world via trading and, in fact, shoppers still used it as late as the 19th century. In 1862, the king of Lagos swapped his African territory to the British for 1,200 bags of cowries a year.

2. R.I.P. Tide

Ben Kirchner 

Nobody thinks of surfing as an aristocratic pursuit, but in its early days, shredding waves was the sport of kings. For centuries, tribal chiefs in Hawaii got their pick of the island trees for crafting longboards, and the top beaches were off-limits to commoners. So it was only natural that when the future King Edward VIII, then the prince of Wales, visited Hawaii in 1920, locals taught him to hang ten. Images of Edward balancing on a board are the first known photos of a British surfer. Between the prince’s royal endorsement and British soldiers meeting surf-loving WWI allies, interest in hitting the waves crested. But since surfboards weren’t available at home, desperate Brits substituted coffin lids! One Cornish undertaker even started marketing his spare lids to would-be surfers at two shillings a pop. Unless zombie surfing suddenly takes off, this is one summer trend that won’t be making a comeback.

3. Salute Your Lifeguard

As public modesty relaxed in the early 20th century, Americans began flocking to the ocean. There was a terrible catch, though: Lots of them couldn’t swim, and the results were tragic. On a single day in San Diego in 1918, 13 swimmers drowned. Newport Beach lost 18 swimmers over the course of a weekend. All told, as many as 9,000 Americans were drowning each year.
Cities realized they needed to protect beachgoers. Some assigned special police officers to beaches or had citizens patrol the water in rowboats. Luckily, one man on the East Coast had an even better idea. In 1914, Wilbert E. Longfellow (not pictured) founded a lifesaving program with the American Red Cross to teach volunteers water rescue and resuscitation methods. Longfellow, a husky swimmer fondly known as “the Amiable Whale,” traveled the country training folks to be lifeguards and spreading the gospel of water safety. His efforts paid off; when Longfellow retired 33 years later, the drowning rate had dropped by nearly 50 percent. And as if that weren’t enough, he also made Baywatch possible!

4. Extreme Privacy

Christina Ung

The next time you’re lugging gear to the beach, be glad you’re not living in the 17th or 18th century. Back then, beachgoers used bathing machines to protect their modesty. Swimmers would step fully dressed into a horse-drawn cart topped with a hut. As the horse plodded out into the surf, the swimmer would change into his long-sleeved bathing suit. Only when the cart had reached a suitable distance from the shore would the swimmer emerge to frolic. When finished, he’d climb back into the cart and raise a flag to alert the horse’s driver he was ready to head in. As the cart approached the beach, the swimmer would change back into street clothes and emerge on the sand looking dapper. Was this system a lot of trouble? You bet! But it was a small price to pay to avoid baring an elbow.

5. Who Stole the Beach?

Justin Gabbard

For centuries, savvy beachgoers have foiled would-be thieves by hiding their wallets in their shoes. But what happens when the crooks get more ambitious? Jamaica faced this question in 2008 when 500 truckloads of sand from a planned tourist beach simply vanished. Somehow, the thieves were able to quietly excavate (and presumably sell) all that sand, either to a rival tourist beach or to builders who wanted to use the loot for construction.

Beach theft isn’t just a Jamaican problem. Crooks heisted an artificial beach in Hungary in 2007, and in 1989, a group of self-proclaimed “sand terrorists” took an Oregon town’s river beach “hostage” in exchange for, among other demands, the release of some spotted owls they claimed were being held in city hall, construction of a water slide on the riverfront, and a reversal of the town’s ban on nude sunbathing. Who knew “sand terrorists” was a synonym for “bored teenagers?”

6. Lego My House!

Just because hermit crabs live in other critters’ discarded digs doesn’t mean they’re not picky. Take Harry, a hermit crab that lives at Legoland in Windsor, England. In 2012, he was in the market for a new shell, so his keepers offered up a variety of sea and snail shells. But the discerning Harry spurned them all. Then one of the keepers had a brilliant idea: What if Harry just wanted a home that fit in with the neighborhood? The team built him a Lego shell, and Harry moved right in. Just goes to show you, even hermits like coordinating their outfits!

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. You can get a free issue here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]