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German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

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germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/

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 94th installment in the series. 

December 4, 1913: German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

In the early years of the 20th century, a visitor to Germany might marvel at the appearance of a calm, orderly society based on conservative values like education, hard work, duty, and respect for authority. But appearances can be deceiving: Germany’s rigid social structures concealed a deep, widening rift between the industrial working class on one side, and the aristocracy and middle class on the other.

Angry about low wages and long hours, German workers increasingly fell under the sway of socialism, a modified version of Marxism calling for the proletariat to take control of the means of production through organized labor and legislation. This goal became more plausible after the government lifted its ban on socialist political activity in 1890. With support from trade unions, the reinvigorated Social Democratic Party won huge electoral gains—but found its ambitions frustrated by Germany’s authoritarian government.

One of the fiercest controversies concerned the military’s dominant position in German society. As part of a self-proclaimed internationalist movement, socialists decried the European arms race as a dangerous waste of money, while at home the SDP reviled the aristocratic military elite as a natural ally of big business and an entrenched opponent of democratic reform. The army could also be used to put down strikes and protests, further limiting the power of organized labor.

The controversy finally boiled over in the autumn of 1913 following a seemingly minor incident in Alsace, a province with a mixed population of French and German speakers annexed from France in 1871. On October 28, Günter Freiherr von Forstner, a 19-year-old Prussian second lieutenant stationed in the town of Zabern (Saverne), made disparaging comments about the local Alsatian population and seemed to encourage his men to brutalize civilians. After local newspapers reported Forstner’s comments, his superiors refused to take serious disciplinary action, triggering protests by townsfolk.

On November 28, 1913, a large number of protesters surrounded the barracks in Zabern, alarming the garrison commander, who then authorized his troops to disperse the crowd by force. That’s when things really started to unravel, as hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested without cause, including several local notables, and the town was placed under unofficial martial law. All in all it was a clear case of the military acting with total disregard for civilian rights (as depicted in the cartoon published in the satirical magazine Simplicissimus in November 1913, above).

As these events thrust Zabern into the national spotlight, there was still a chance for the central government to defuse the situation. But in typical fashion Kaiser Wilhelm II—trained in the Prussian military and no one’s idea of a statesman—did exactly the wrong thing. On November 30, the German emperor met with Prussian War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn to hear the military’s side of the story, but completely ignored civilian representatives. The same day the SDP organized the first of a wave of protests in Mülhausen (Mulhouse), a big town in Alsace, which soon spread to the rest of the country. 

Things were about to get even worse, as Forstner—apparently none the wiser for having caused a national crisis, and none too bright to begin with—took center stage again. While drilling with troops on December 2, 1913, the second lieutenant heard some townsfolk mocking his fancy uniform, lost his temper, and struck a partially disabled apprentice cobbler named Karl Blank with his sword. Naturally this provoked a fresh public outcry, but once again Forstner’s superiors refused to take real disciplinary action, further escalating the conflict. 

The Zabern Affair was now a full-blown political crisis for the government, as traditional allies like the Center Party and Conservative Party distanced themselves to express their disgust over its incompetent handling of the situation. On November 30, the SDP’s newspaper Vorwarts (Forwards) called for the Reichstag to assert itself:

“If the Reichstag stands for the terror of the sword in Zabern, and the guilty are not called to account in the most unconditional manner, and guarantees given to prevent the repetition of similar military excesses, then the government by constitution and law will have capitulated altogether before the arbitrariness of our Militarism!”

On December 3, 1913, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg finally addressed the Reichstag on the Zabern Affair—but instead of asserting civilian authority, the weak-willed head of government just offered lame excuses for the military. True, Forstner had referred to Alsatians with the insulting term “wackes,” but Bethmann Hollweg said this merely meant “screwball” and wasn’t an ethnic slur (it was); anyway the military had now banned the use of the word “screwball” so it wouldn’t happen again. The chancellor conceded that Forstner’s behavior has been improper, but dismissed it as an “unpleasant but certainly not … world-shaking” event, and completely dodged the real issue—the illegal arrests and imposition of martial law in Zabern.

The Reichstag wasn’t buying it: On December 4, 1913, the deputies voted 293 to 54 that the government’s handling of the affair was “not the view of the Reichstag.” This was a humiliating blow to Bethmann Hollweg, equivalent to a vote of “no confidence,” which could have triggered the fall of the government. One observer said the chancellor looked physically ill, maybe even at risk of a nervous breakdown. However the Center and Conservative Parties refused to join the SDP in demanding his resignation, since this might open up the possibility of a power struggle between the military, backed by the Kaiser, and the socialist opposition – and then who knew what would happen.

December 7 delivered another blow to the government’s prestige, as mass protests organized by the SDP gripped 17 cities around Germany. But the Zabern Affair was already starting to subside: on December 5, 1913, the Kaiser (with his usual impeccable timing) relented and ordered Forstner’s unit moved to a remote village away from the public eye, as the Alsatians had demanded all along. Thus an opportunity for reform had been missed, meaning the conflict between soldiers and socialists would only grow more intense during the maelstrom to come. 

See the previous installment or all entries

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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