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25 Things You Didn’t Know About Philadelphia

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It’s home to the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, and Philly cheesesteaks. But there’s more than that going on in the City of Brotherly Love.

1. Philly is a city of firsts. On top of hosting America’s first birthday, it also started up the country’s first daily newspaper—The Philadelphia Packet and Daily Advertiser—in 1784.

2. The city is home to America's first zoo.

3. It’s also home to the first hospital.

4. And, naturally, the first medical school!

5. Philadelphia is actually renowned for its medical sector. One out of every six doctors in the U.S. is trained in Philly.

6. Move over, England. The Walnut Street Theater is actually the oldest continually running theater in the English-speaking world.

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7. It was originally owned by Edwin Booth—you might know him as John Wilkes Booth’s brother.  

8. Philly became home to the first general purpose computer in 1946.

9. It weighed 27 tons!

10. Philly boasts more Impressionist paintings than any other city outside Paris.

11. Art is a big deal here. Boasting over 2000 outdoor murals, it’s been called the “mural capital of the U.S.”

12. If you’re more of a foodie, Philly is also home to the Wing Bowl, an eating contest that draws crowds as large as 20,000 people. 

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13. In 1943, Phillies owner Robert Carpenter attempted to rename the team the Blue Jays. The nickname obviously failed to catch on.

14. Why are the Flyers called the Flyers? Because Ed Snider’s wife simply thought the name sounded good.

15. As for the Eagles, they’re actually named for the Eagle that appeared on posters during the National Recovery Act, which was part of FDR’s New Deal.

16. Before that, the city's home team was the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

17. In 1988, the Eagles helped make the world’s largest cheesesteak. To no one’s surprise, it was the length of a football field.

18. In the beginning, the Philadelphia mint took several years to produce its first million coins.

19. Today, it can make that many in less than an hour.

20. One of the first businesses in Philly? Beer. William Frampton’s brewery started up in 1683.

21. For the U.S. bicentennial, the city planted a “moon tree.” (That is, a tree grown from a seed taken on the Apollo 14 mission.)

22. Philly’s Mütter Museum has a great collection of medical oddities, including slides of Einstein’s brain, slices of a human face, and a book bound by human skin.

23. Surprise! Neither Thomas Jefferson nor John Adams signed the Constitution—they were out of town.

24. Sorry, but there’s no evidence that Philadelphia resident Betsy Ross stitched the first American flag.

25. The story was made up in 1870, some 100 years after the fact. You can still visit her home in Philly’s Old City neighborhood, though! 

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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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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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