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25 Things You Might Not Know About Los Angeles

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You know the Hollywood sign, the Lakers, and the traffic, but here are a few Los Angeles nuggets that may have slipped past you. 

1. When LA was founded, the city’s full name was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles sobre el Rio Porciuncula.” (If your Spanish is rusty, that translates to “The town of our lady queen of the angels on the Porciuncula River.”)

2. In 1892, oil was discovered near what is now Dodger Stadium.

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3. By 1923, Los Angeles produced one quarter of the world’s oil. It still sits atop the third largest oil field in the country!

4. An oil derrick on the property of Beverly Hills High School produces about 400 barrels a day. The school earns about $300,000 a year in royalties.

5. Not many people consider visiting the coroner to finish their holiday shopping. But if you do, the LA coroner’s office has a gift shop.

6. When it rains in LA, it pours. On April 5, 1926, a gauge in the San Gabriel Mountains collected an inch of rain in just one minute.

7. While in February 1978, almost a foot of rain fell in 24 hours.

8. How did the film industry end up in LA? To get away from Thomas Edison. Edison—who lived in New Jersey—held most of the country’s film patents. Filmmakers fled westward to avoid Edison’s intellectual property claims.

9. Beverly Hills started out as a modest lima bean ranch.

10. And Santa Monica Pier was originally designed to protect a sewage pipe that dumped treated sewage into the ocean.

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11. In 2006, a new tar pit was discovered. It contained the remains of saber-toothed cats, giant sloths, American lions, and a mammoth that was named Zed.

12. If Los Angeles were its own country, its economy would be bigger than Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Sweden’s.

13. In 1996, Charlie Sheen bought 2,615 outfield seats at Angels Stadium in nearby Anaheim—so he could catch a home run ball.

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14. He came up empty handed.

15. Tons of stars are buried in Hollywood’s Forever Cemetery. One of them is Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc, whose gravestone reads, “That's all folks.”

16. It is illegal to lick a toad in the City of Angels.

17. Ever since the zoot suit riot in 1943, the baggy suits have been prohibited in LA.

18. It’s also illegal to drive more than 2000 sheep down Hollywood Boulevard.

19. The Hollywood sign originally said “Hollywoodland.”

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20. (It was an advertisement for Tinseltown’s latest real estate development.)

21. At just 320 feet long, the Angels Flight incline is one of the shortest incorporated railways in the world.

22. Each spring, the Getty Museum hires goats to maintain the scrub around its manicured grounds.

23. Unlike other baseball stadiums, Dodger Stadium is carved deep into the ground. Parking is available for every stadium level.

24. L.A. is home to the largest boulder ever transported—a 340-ton chunk of granite that hit the road in 2012. It took 11 days to move it just 85 miles to its home at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

25. When they were first installed, the steel walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall reflected so much light that nearby sidewalks hit temperatures of 140°F.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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