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National Park Service

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Statue of Liberty

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National Park Service

July 4th is a big day for the U.S.—not only is it Independence Day, but the Statue of Liberty reopens for essentially the first time since 2011. After her 125th birthday party in 2011, the statue was closed for an interior facelift, including new elevators, staircases and restrooms. She was literally open for a single day—October 28, 2012—before closing again due to Hurricane Sandy. Though the statue survived the storm unscathed, the island itself suffered a lot of damage, and so Lady Liberty has remained closed. To celebrate the reopening—and Independence Day, of course—let's revisit a few little-known Liberty facts.

1. The Statue’s dedication inspired another uniquely New York institution: the ticker-tape parade. New York office workers got the idea to unfurl financial ribbons from windows on October 29, 1886, the day President Grover Cleveland presided over the dedication ceremony. The dedication is pictured above—though it was indeed a foggy day, the haze you see is the smoke from the military salute.

2. Up until Hurricane Sandy hit last year, David Luchsinger and his wife were residents of a very, very exclusive neighborhood: Liberty Island. As the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, Luchsinger is one of a select few who have ever called the island home. The National Park Ranger selected to be the seer of the statue is provided with free housing—a small brick house, located on the other side of the island. The Luchsingers’ famous neighbor is hidden by trees, believe it or not. Unfortunately, the cozy little house sustained a lot of damage during Sandy. There’s been some speculation that Luchsinger may be the last non-colossus Liberty Island resident ever.

3. The star-shaped Fort Wood, which now serves as part of the statue’s pedestal, was home to military families from 1818 until the mid-1930s. These military families often included young children like Pete Bluhm (who was 83 when this article ran in the New York Times last year), who remembered a Fourth of July where G.I.s bounced bottle rockets off of Lady Liberty’s posterior. Another man, James Hill, recalled that he and his younger sister would drop baseballs from Liberty’s crown to see how high they would bounce. Other Liberty Island kids said they climbed to the torch tower and made it rock back and forth.

4. Once upon a time, it wasn’t just island kids who could climb to the tip of the torch. Tourists were able to climb up to the precarious perch until 1916, when those privileges were revoked in response to the Black Tom incident. Around 2 a.m. on July 30, Black Tom, once an island in the New York Harbor, was rocked by the explosion of two million tons of war materials such as TNT, black powder, shrapnel and dynamite. The blast was the equivalent of a 5.5-on-the-Richter Scale earthquake; shrapnel flew across the night sky and embedded itself in the Statue of Liberty. Windows shattered as far as 25 miles away.

It was later determined that German agents intent on stopping the munitions from getting to their English enemies had ignited the supply. The Statue of Liberty’s torch was closed, partially due to infrastructure damage from the blast and partially just out of concern for terrorism. It’s been closed ever since—but you can still appreciate the view from the top with this TorchCam, installed in 2011.

5. The seven spikes radiating from the Lady’s crown aren’t actually part of the crown. They’re meant to be a halo, also known as an aureole. The rays were temporarily removed from her crown in 1938 so their rusted supports could be replaced.

6. The Statue of Liberty was supposed to have a sister statue and lighthouse in Egypt. Sculptor Frederic Bartholdi offered to make Egypt a large piece for the entrance to the Suez Canal called “Egypt Carrying Light to Asia,” which would have featured a veiled Egyptian peasant woman holding a lantern. The Egyptian khedive declined.

7. When the statue first arrived from France, she was the color of a shiny new penny. It took roughly 20 years for Liberty to patina to the greenish-blue hue she is today.

8. Frederic Bartholdi has trumped any Mother’s Day gift you could ever come up with: He used his mother, Charlotte, as the model for the most recognized statue in the world. This was first discovered in 1876, when Bartholdi invited French Senator Jules Bozerian to his box at the opera. When Bozerian pulled back the curtain to step into the box, he was shocked to find a real-life version of the Statue of Liberty sitting there in the box. When he said so to Bartholdi, the sculptor smiled: “But do you know who this lady is? She’s my mother,” he told the senator.

9. According to The Statue of Liberty Encyclopedia, these are common nicknames for “Everybody’s Gal”: America’s Freedom, America’s Great Lady, Aunt Liberty, Bartholdi’s Daughter, Giant Goddess, Grande Dame, Green Goddess, The Lady Higher Up, Lady of the Harbor, Lady on a Pedestal, Lady with a Torch, Mother of Exiles, Mother of Freedom, Saint Liberty, and the Spirit of American Independence.

10. "The Statue of Liberty,” is, in fact, a nickname. Bartholdi’s name for his gift was “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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