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19 Things You Might Not Know About Nevada

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Yes, today's Halloween. But we bet you didn't know that on October 31, 1864, Nevada became the 36th state in the Union. Let's celebrate with 19 facts about the Silver State.

1. You might think of it as the gambling state, but silver ore put Nevada on the map. The 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode triggered a silver rush and population boom. Nevada's location and mineral wealth made it an attractive potential Union state during the Civil War, and so it was. That's why Nevada's also known as the Battle Born State.

2. California's known as the Golden State, but most U.S. gold comes from Nevada.

3. In Spanish, "nevada" means "snow-capped." But if you say the state's name with the Spanish pronunciation—Nev-AH-da—you probably don't live there. Locals usually pronounce it Nev-AD-a.

4. Nevada was originally inhabited by the Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes. The first permanent non-native settlement, built in 1851, belonged to a different group—the Mormons.

5. Nevada is the only state with the Shonisaurus, an ichthyosaur, as its state fossil. The four-flippered water reptile looked kind of like a dolphin on steroids.

6. Only 17 states have an official state grass. Nevada and Utah share the same one—Indian ricegrass, a popular food among bison, jackrabbits, and people on gluten-free diets. The latter consume it as Montina flour.

7. Nevada is also one of seven U.S. states with no individual income tax. It doesn't collect corporate income tax, either.

8. The iconic Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was created by 35-year-old graphic designer Betty Willis in 1959. She never trademarked the design, calling it her "gift to the city." Willis continued working in neon signage until she was 77.

9. With fewer than 10 inches of rain per year, Nevada's the driest state in the U.S.

10. Nevada's the seventh-largest state in size, and about 86 percent of its land is owned by the federal government. From 1951 to 1992, 928 nuclear tests were performed at the Nevada Test Site just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

11. In 1999, there was about one slot machine for every 10 residents.

12. Nevada's the only U.S. state to legalize prostitution, but only in the form of regulated brothels in counties with populations under 400,000. So all that prostitution that occurs in bigger cities like Reno and Las Vegas is illegal ... and thriving.

13. While several states don't have laws banning public intoxication, Nevada is the only one that specifically prohibits any local or state law from making it a public offense. It also has a statewide law allowing the 24-hour sale of booze from bars, restaurants, and stores.

14. Which brings us to the well-known tourism slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." Though different versions of the saying have been used over the years by various groups, "What happens here, stays here" was first used in Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority ad campaigns in December 2002. The Las Vegas advertising firm R&R Partners created the slogan and controversially bought the trademark from the Authority for $1, then began suing anyone infringing on it.

15. The Humboldt River is the fourth largest river in the U.S. in terms of discharge, but it has no outlet to the ocean. One geological term for a closed drainage system such as this: an endorheic basin.

16. Hoover Dam was a massive undertaking. Ideas for a dam had been investigated since 1900, but the project wasn't authorized until 1928. Construction began in 1931, and Hoover Dam was the largest dam in the world—726 feet high and 1,244 feet long—when it was completed in 1935. It was the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the world until 1948.

17. Hoover Dam was originally called Boulder Dam. In 1947, it was renamed after Herbert Hoover, who negotiated the Colorado River Compact as the U.S. secretary of commerce before becoming the 31st U.S. president. Twelve years earlier, Hoover hadn't even been invited to the dam's dedication ceremony.

18. After dedicating what was then called Boulder Dam on September 30, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first POTUS to visit Las Vegas.

19. There are 112 deaths associated with the construction of Hoover Dam. The first was surveyor J.G. Tierney, who fell into the Colorado River and drowned on December 20, 1922. The last was Tierney's son, Patrick W. Tierney, who fell from an intake tower. The two men died on the same day, 13 years apart. Now that's dam spooky.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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