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Wikimedia Commons

9 City Streets Named After Real People

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Wikimedia Commons

It seems strange that streets these days—from the cul de sac around the block to the major roadway that runs through the whole town—can be named after just about anything, inevitably leading to plenty of eye-popping and head-shaking moments while you’re meant to be focusing on the literal road ahead. There are plenty of famously wacky street names out there (favorites range from Psycho Path in Traverse City, Michigan to Tater Peeler Road in Lebanon, Texas), but there are still more alleys, avenues, and drives dedicated to something far better—real people. But just who is getting their moniker slapped on a street sign? And how exactly did they make that happen?

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. – various cities

America’s most famous activist has been honored with his very own streets in hundreds of American cities—at last count, there were over 730 streets named after the civil rights leader, with his own home state of Georgia laying down the pavement for at least 100 of them (the most of any state by far). The most famous of the hundreds of MLK streets can be found in Atlanta, his hometown, where Martin Luther King Jr. Drive borders the Atlanta University Center, a collection of historically black colleges and universities—including Morehouse College, where King went to school. Elsewhere across the country, MLK’s names adorns highways, byways, interchanges, and city streets. And while Georgia may have the most MLK streets, Illinois was the first state to use the good doctor’s name to mark a roadway—they dedicated Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive back in 1968.

2. George Balanchine Way – New York City

Beloved ballet choreographer, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, and father of American ballet George Balanchine got his very own street (well, portion of a street) named after him in New York City back in 1990. Positioned near the New York State Theatre on West 63rd Street, George Balanchine Way honors one of the world’s most famous choreographers and a true visionary when it came to artistic pursuits of the feet and mind. Balanchine is also honored by another street that bears his name in Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia, where it's home to the U.S. Embassy.

3. Peter Jennings Way – New York City

New York City loves honoring its most famous citizens with streets named after them, and veteran newsman Peter Jennings is no exception. A year after the ABC anchor passed away, a portion of West 67th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West was named for Jennings. The stretch of road is particularly meaningful: It's exactly where ABC Headquarters is located. It’s a fitting location and, hey, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from good ol' George Balanchine Way.  

4. Bob Hope Drive – Burbank, CA and Rancho Mirage, Ca

If there’s one key to getting a street named after you, it’s to just be wildly famous. The national treasure who was Bob Hope—comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, author, athlete, and Broadway star—has a whole mess of things named after him, especially around the areas of Southern California where his Hollywood career took place. Hope’s got an airport named after him, along with a square, a number of theaters, and even a golf tournament. The star even has four literal stars to his name, at least of the Hollywood Walk of Fame variety (one each for his contributions to live theater, radio, motion pictures, and television). But Hope also has two streets named after him—both “Bob Hope Drive”—located in Burbank, California and Rancho Mirage, California. Basically, you can’t move too far in SoCal without hitting something named after the superstar.

5. Astaire Avenue, Garland Drive, Lamarr Avenue, Skelton Circle, and Hepburn Circle – Culver City, CA

Elsewhere in Southern California, still more stars are honored with streets bearing their names, and we daresay they’re all talents with just as much class as Hope himself (good luck locating a Miley Cyrus Drive or a Britney Spears Circle out there, but we’ll give it some time). Culver City, a new mini suburb built on what was the back lot of the classic MGM Studio, includes a cluster of roadways named after some of the movie house’s most famous stars—including (Fred) Astaire Avenue, (Judy) Garland Drive, (Hedy) Lamarr Avenue, (Red) Skelton Circle, and (Katharine) Hepburn Circle. A few of those sound good enough to dance on.

6. Sam Cooke Way – Chicago, IL

It may have taken some time, but a change did indeed come to Chicago when soul singer superstar and pioneering talent Sam Cooke was honored with “Sam Cooke Way” back in June of 2011. The small stretch of the city’s Cottage Grove Avenue was picked because of its proximity to a corner where a teenaged Cooke would hang out and exercise his trademark pipes. Cooke had long since passed when the street was finally given a fresh moniker—he was shot by a hotel manager back in 1964—but fans of the singer can still visit the street named after him and imagine what it was like to hear him bust out a groove on a once-nondescript avenue.

7. Dave Grohl Alley – Warren, OH

All apologies to Nirvana, The Foo Fighters, and Them Crooked Vultures, but only drummer and singer Dave Grohl has earned his own street back in his hometown of Warren, Ohio. The street was dedicated in August of 2009, and Grohl returned to the town he was born in to receive both a key to the city and the honor of having an entire alley named after him. While an alley might not scream excitement, the town put on a real show, with Grohl himself putting on an actual show along with other local bands. The alley itself is also something special—it’s covered with murals dedicated to Grohl and crafted by local artists.

8. Flaming Lips Alley – Oklahoma City, OK

Grohl isn’t the only musician with his own alley. Oklahoma City’s own Flaming Lips also have one named in their honor. The rock band earned the distinction back in December of 2006, when the city bestowed a street in their entertainment district, Bricktown, with the name “Flaming Lips Alley.” Succinct, right? Not content to have Bricktown celebrate just one street named after a popular musical act, the city also gave streets to both Vince Gill and Charlie Christian during the event. Bricktown is also home to the Oklahoma City Redhawks’ baseball stadium, located on the corner of Johnny Bench Drive and Joe Carter Avenue, both baseball players who were Oklahoma City natives.

9. Korn Row – Bakersfield, CA

Did you know that American nu metal band Korn has two Grammys? No? Then you’re probably not aware that the SoCal band also has a small stretch of road in their hometown of Bakersfield, California named after them. Back in February 2006, the band not only got the portion of road (a back access road to the town’s Rabobank Arena) dedicated to them, their hometown also honored them with an entire day in their honor. Yup, Korn Row was dedicated on Korn Day, and now you’re up to date on your Korn honors. 

BONUS: Tupac Lane – Las Vegas, NV

While Las Vegas’s own “Tupac Lane” isn’t officially named after dead rapper Tupac Shakur (who was shot dead in the city in 1996), it’s still too strange to ignore. What are the odds that a famous musician with a unique moniker would share a name with an apparently unrelated street in the very city that he lost his life in? Actually, the odds might be pretty high, considering that Las Vegas has a laughable history of strange street names (including some amazingly incorrect versions of both common words and proper names). The Awl covered the phenomenon of terrible Las Vegas street names earlier this year, but here’s a sample of other famous names attached to unrelated streets (all misspellings are, embarrassingly enough for the city, correct): Jane Austin Avenue, Alfa Romero Avenue, De Vinci Court, and Bugsy Siegal Circle. Get it together, City of Sin.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]