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Jon Knox

10 of the World's Most Beautiful Lighthouses

Original image
Jon Knox

Once a necessary tool to warn mariners of land masses, lighthouses are now seen as iconic emblems of sea-travel and waterways—though many still offer navigation assistance to ships. Here are a few of the most beautiful active lighthouses in the world.

Because there are so many stunning lighthouses the world over, I limited this article to only include lighthouses that are still active. So, if you’re really upset that your favorite lighthouse isn’t included in this list, that could be the reason—that and the fact that there are simply so many great ones out there.

1. Lindau Lighthouse, Germany

Flickr: Andreas Flohr

The southernmost lighthouse in Germany, the Lindau Lighthouse is locaed on Lake Constance, Lindau. It was completed in 1856, when it took over the port’s previous light station in the Mangtrum Tower, constructed in 1230. The 108 foot tall structure is quite unique among lighthouses because it also houses a massive clock that can be viewed from the city.

The tower was converted to electricity in 1936 and automated in the early 1990s. It is open to visitors and provides information on local nature and the city’s shipping industry.

2. Fanad Lighthouse, Ireland

Flickr: myheimu

After a large ship sank in their waters in 1804, the residents of the Fanad peninsula started to demand a lighthouse be built on the Fanad Head. In 1818, the 90 foot structure was completed and lit. In 1909, a new, brighter light was installed that operated on a weight-driven clockwork rotation machine, built to display six flashes every fifteen seconds. Eventually, this apparatus was replaced in 1975, when the light was converted to electric power. 

3. Portland Head Light, Maine

Wikipedia: rapidfire

This historical Maine lighthouse is located at the entrance to Portland Harbor in Cape Elizabeth. It was completed in 1791, making it the oldest lighthouse in Maine and one of the oldest lighthouses in America. The 80 foot tower was raised during the Civil War to help ward off increasingly common ship raids. It was lowered to its original height in 1881, and raised back in 1893, after mariners complained. In 1891, the current keeper’s house was built, which now operates as a maritime museum within Fort Williams Park.

The lighthouse is still operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It was automated in 1989.

4. Yaquina Bay Light, Oregon

Flickr: Cindy MC

Soon after Newport, Oregon was founded, the residents recognized the need for a lighthouse to protect ships visiting their port, and the resulting Yaquina Bay Light was completed in 1871. Only three years later, the lighthouse was decommissioned after a newer lighthouse was constructed. In 1946, the structure was scheduled to be demolished, but the Lincoln County Historical Society was able to postpone the destruction by working to raise money for its preservation. Finally, in 1951, the building was recognized as a historical site, where it served as a county museum for 18 years.  

In 1970, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which allowed it to be restored under the Historic Preservation Act. Finally, in 1996, after over one hundred years of deactivation, the tower was re-lit. It is now recognized as an official U.S. Coast Guard aid that is privately maintained. The structure remains one of the only lighthouses on the West Coast in which the living quarters are housed in the same building as the light.

The lighthouse is open for public viewing, but if you’re superstitious, you might was to skip this lighthouse, because it is reputed to be haunted.

5. The St. Augustine Light, Florida

Image courtesy of Kim Young Seng

St. Augustine was home to the first lighthouse in Florida, though the first structure fell into the ocean after its foundation eroded. The newer, current lighthouse was constructed on Anastasia Island and completed in 1874. The building received indoor plumbing in 1907 and the light was electrified in 1936 and automated in 1955. After lighthouse keepers were no longer needed, the keeper’s house began to be rented out to local residents.

By 1970, the grounds were declared surplus by the U.S. Coast Guard, so St. Johns County purchased the property. Ten years later, the Junior Service League of St. Augustine signed a 99 year lease with the county and a 30 year lease with the Coast Guard (which still owned the lighthouse itself) and began restoring the buildings.  In 1981, the tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1994, the property has been open to the public as part of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Admission fees help support continued preservation of the lighthouse and maritime archaeology programs. The organization continues to operate the lighthouse as a private aid to navigation.

6. Peggys Point Lighthouse, Canada

Image courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

Perhaps the most famous lighthouse in Canada, the current Peggys Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1915. It marks the eastern entrance of St. Margarets Bay and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nova Scotia.

The original wooden lighthouse that served the area was converted to the keeper’s dwelling after the current structure was completed, but it was damaged and removed after 1954’s Hurricane Edna. In 1958, the lighthouse was automated. For a long time, the lighthouse used to contain a Canada Post office that was in operation during the summer, but it was closed down in 2009, due to health concerns related to mold.

7. Start Point Lighthouse, England

Image courtesy of Jon Knox

One of 29 lighthouses designed by engineer James Walker, the Start Point tower features gothic elements with a crenellated parapet. Inside the tower features a stunning cantilevered granite staircase. Originally the keeper’s living quarters were inside the tower, but they were removed in 1871 after exterior quarters were completed. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England has listed the Devon structure as a grade II listed building and it is open to the public during the summer.

8. Tower of Hercules, Spain

Image courtesy of Alessio Damato

The oldest lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules, also referred to as the Corunna Lighthouse or Farum Brigantium, was constructed sometime in the second century. It is located in northwest Spain outside the city of Corunna. The Roman-built tower is believed to have been based on the Lighthouse of Alexandria. While the 180 foot building is around 1900 years old, the structure is not entirely original—during a 1791 renovation, the three-story tower was given an additional level.

These days, the Tower of Hercules is a National Monument of Spain and, since 2009, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pretty impressive considering the lighthouse is still in use after almost two millennia.

9. Bass Harbor Head Station, Maine

Image courtesy of Matthew Paulson

Located in the Acadia National Park in the southeast corner of Mount Desert Island, this beautiful lighthouse remains a private residence for one lucky Coast Guard member and his family. While you cannot enter the 1858 lighthouse or the former keeper’s quarters, you can get close to the light and warning bell and get a great view of the structure by travelling a concrete path and a few wooden stairs that are part of the park grounds.

The lighthouse was automated in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

10. White Shoal Light, Michigan

Built in 1912, the White Shoal Light remains unique not only as the only aluminum-topped lighthouse on the Great Lakes, but also as the only “barber pole” lighthouse in the U.S. The Lake Michigan light is located 20 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge and because it was constructed so far from land, it was considered a great engineering feat when it was constructed. These days, if you want to get a close look at the structure, you’ll have to take a boat or a seaplane.

The building is one of the most famous lighthouses in the Great Lakes and was even featured on a license plate for the State of Michigan in an effort to help fund lighthouse preservation in the state.

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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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