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Wikimedia Commons

Turks Retake Adrianople, Bulgaria Asks for Peace

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Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 79th installment in the series. 

July 21 and 22, 1913: Turks Retake Adrianople, Bulgaria Asks for Peace

After laying siege to Adrianople (Edirne) for six long months in the First Balkan War, the Bulgarians finally captured the city in a bloody battle in March 1913—but only held the ancient city for all of four months, before it was recaptured by the Turks on July 21 and 22, 1913, without a shot fired.

The fall of Adrianople was the crowning loss of the disastrous Second Balkan War, when Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand attacked Bulgaria’s former allies, Serbia and Greece, over the division of spoils from the First Balkan War, only to meet with swift, stunning defeats. These provided the signal for Romania and the Ottoman Empire to attack Bulgaria from the rear, sealing its fate. While the Romanians marched into Dobruja in northern Bulgaria, the Turks advanced to reclaim Adrianople, which had been left totally undefended by the overstretched Bulgarians.

The Turkish army’s triumphal entry into Adrianople was led by War Minister Ismail Enver (above), who became a national hero, winning the honorific “Pasha” and the title “Conqueror of Edirne.” The victory also cemented the rule of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP, better known as the “Young Turks”). Ordinary Turks had been left angry, humiliated and afraid by the defeats of the First Balkan War, and they were exhilarated to see the Young Turks fighting back. Propagandists were stoking the nationalist fervor, with one pamphlet warning: “There can be no doubt that our homeland’s survival and well-being depends on the raising of our defensive strength… Ottomans!... If you do not want to become slaves, if you do not want to be destroyed forever, ready yourselves for the fight.”

Meanwhile, Enver was pushing ahead with ambitious reforms to modernize the Turkish military, including a purge of old officers who were no longer fit to command, a new structure for Turkish divisions based on the cutting-edge German model, and new, more efficient plans for conscription and mobilization. In a little over a year the new Ottoman army would prove a surprisingly formidable foe to Europeans whose (low) expectations had been shaped by its embarrassing performance in the First Balkan War.

Bulgaria Asks for Peace

With his armies reeling and enemy troops marching in virtually unopposed from several directions, in July 1913 Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand moved to make peace—but too late. Having foolishly launched treacherous, ill-prepared attacks on Serbia and Greece, Bulgaria would now have to pay the price in the form of major territorial concessions.

On July 21, 1913, Tsar Ferdinand sent a personal telegram to Romania’s King Carol asking for peace—but Carol said it all depended on the attitude of Romania’s new allies, Serbia and Greece. Unsurprisingly, the Serbs and the Greeks showed no sign of wanting to call off their victorious troops, and delayed entering peace negotiations until July 31, when they finally agreed to meet the Bulgarians in Bucharest. The price of peace was going to be high.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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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:

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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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