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How to Find Buried Treasure

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In 2011, archaeologists discovered $22 billion in gold and jewels in a South Indian temple. According to UNESCO, over 100 shipwrecks—each holding at least $50 million—are waiting to be discovered. Treasure is everywhere! So grab your metal detector and shovel and get ready to be more interesting. Here’s how to find the sort of riches that would make Blackbeard jealous.

1) Learn Some Math

It was 1817, and Thomas J. Beale and his men had just discovered gold and silver in the Rockies. To keep their loot safe, they quickly shipped it to Virginia and buried it somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beale then wrote three ciphers—complicated number puzzles—describing the treasure’s location, contents, and owners. Only one of the ciphers has been decoded so far. Break this code, and you may land $60 million.

2) Know the Lingo

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Copper Scroll lists the whereabouts of 63 stashes of gold and silver—riches rumored to have been lifted from Solomon’s Temple. To find the treasure, you’ll need working knowledge of Mishnic Hebrew and an ability to read sloppy handwriting. Owning an ancient dictionary is a plus. Scholars continue to struggle with the Scroll’s vocabulary.

3) Break Out Your Snorkel

Lake Guatavita in Colombia inspired the legend of El Dorado and once served as a holy site for the Muisca people. During one particular Muisca ceremony, the tribal ruler would coat himself in gold dust, raft out to the middle of the lake, and toss gold to the bottom. In 1911, a British company drained the waters, recovering some artifacts. But the silt quickly baked dry like concrete, trapping most of the gold. The lake has since been refilled, so you’ll need permission before you go treasure hunting.

4) Visit Davey Jones’ Locker

Stuffed with Alfonso de Albuquerque’s war spoils, the Spanish ship Flor de la Mar sank in 1511. It reportedly held 600 tons of gold and 200 chests of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. That makes it the priciest sunken treasure in the world, totaling $3 billion! The ship, however, has never been found. It’s somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, between Sumatra and Malaysia.

5) Head to Austria

Operation Bernhard was a German scheme to cripple American and British economies by flooding them with forged currency during World War II. When the plan crumbled, panicked soldiers dumped crates of phony currency into Austria’s Lake Toplitz. Along with the faux dough, tons of gold plunder was reportedly sent to the lake’s bottom. To get to it today, you’ll need a permit. Diving was banned there in the 1960s when the lake proved to be a deathtrap. It’s 300 feet deep, mostly oxygen-starved, and littered with logs. There are some hoaxes down there, too. In 1984, locals sank a crate full of bottle caps. Inside it said, “Sorry, not this time.”

Good luck with your hunt! And even if you come up empty, you can still feel like a million bucks by cracking open a Dos Equis.

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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]