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Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

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beThe 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 August, 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 110th installment in the series. 

March 26 - 27, 1914: Plotters Decide to Kill the Archduke

In March 1914, the Balkan cauldron was simmering away, as Austria-Hungary faced fresh difficulties in Albania and Serbia and Montenegro threatened to merge, promising further instability. But it was a plot unfolding behind the scenes that lit the fuse for the greatest conflict in history. 

At first glance March 7, 1914 marked a diplomatic success for Austria-Hungary, as a German aristocrat, Prince Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich of Wied, arrived in the Albanian city of Durazzo to take the throne of the new nation. This was supposed to be the culmination of several years of diplomacy and saber rattling by Austria-Hungary’s foreign minister Count Berchtold, who persuaded the other Great Powers to create a new, independent Albania to deny Serbia access to the sea after the First Balkan War (the Austrians feared Russia might use a Serbian port as a naval base). The only problem with the scheme was that it completely ignored reality: The Prince of Wied commanded neither troops nor loyalty in Albania, and his “authority” was confined to Durazzo, propped up by a small Dutch-Austrian force. It wasn’t long before a powerful tribal leader, Esad Pasha Toptani, began plotting rebellion in the hopes of grabbing the crown.

Meanwhile, Montenegro and Serbia were in talks to create a customs union as a precursor to a full political union. This was another nightmare scenario for Austria-Hungary, as it would give Serbia its long-coveted access to the sea and set the stage for the final struggle to liberate the Dual Monarchy’s Southern Slavic peoples. Montenegro’s King Nikola wasn’t necessarily thrilled about the idea of Serbia absorbing his tiny kingdom but the great Slavic patron, Russia, supported the merger. So on March 15, Nikola tried to put the best face on things by inviting Serbia’s King Peter to negotiations for an eventual union that would, the Montenegrin king wrote, “give joy not only to the peoples of Serbia and Montenegro but also to the brother Serbs not yet liberated [and] all Southern Slavism…” On April 2, Serbia’s King Peter responded with a letter expressing “tremendous joy” over the idea, as “such fraternal agreement would form the best foundation for the future of Serbia…”

Although negotiations were put on hold by the outbreak of hostilities a few months later, contemporaries recognized that the Serbian-Montenegrin union was itself a possible flashpoint for a continent-wide war. Following a visit to Vienna, on April 5 Kaiser Wilhelm II reported an alarming rumor to the German foreign office: “King Nikita is secretly to sell his land to Serbia, Russia would in the event advance the sum and thereby acquire a claim to compensation on the coast… If it later comes to light and Austria wants to put up an opposition and call the Serbs to account, Russia would at once go to their help and world war would be upon us.”

The Conspirators Target Franz Ferdinand 

In March 1914, a ragtag group of part-time high school students, pamphleteers, and coffeehouse intellectuals began plotting a murder that would shake the world to its foundations—although at the time none of them had any idea what its real impact would be. While many details remain murky due to conflicting accounts, historians have pieced together the rough outline and timing of the plot, including the role played by members of Unity or Death, an ultranationalist cabal directed by Serbian military officers in Belgrade also known as the Black Hand, and Young Bosnia, an underground organization in Austrian Bosnia.

For several years, a Bosnian Serb teenager and member of Young Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip (above, top row, left), had been drifting back and forth between Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Austrian-controlled Bosnia, and the Serbian capital Belgrade, where he was supposedly attending high school but actually spent most of his time talking politics with other radical Serbian nationalists in grimy cafés. On March 13, 1914, after a visit home to Bosnia Princip returned to Belgrade, where he was soon to be found in his usual haunts.

In late March, one of Princip’s café colleagues, Nedjelko Čabrinović (above, top row, right), supposedly received an envelope with no return address, containing a clipping from a Bosnian or Croatian newspaper about Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s planned visit to Sarajevo on June 28—known to Serbs as Vidovdan, the anniversary of the Serbian defeat by the Turks at the Field of Blackbirds in 1389. In this version of events, Čabrinović showed the clipping to Princip, who shared his indignation at the apparent insult in the visit’s timing, and on March 27 the friends swore a secret oath to assassinate the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones.

Meanwhile Princip’s best friend in Sarajevo, a nationalist newspaper editor named Danilo Ilić (who had recently joined Unity or Death, also known as the Black Hand—above, top row, center) also received word about the Archduke’s planned visit around this time—again, supposedly from a newspaper clipping sent to him anonymously. However he learned about it, Ilić was thinking along the same lines as Princip by late March, when he met his friend Muhamed Mehmedbašić (not pictured), a Bosnian Muslim and fellow member of Young Bosnia, who was still hoping to carry out an earlier plot to assassinate Oskar Potiorek, the Austrian governor of Bosnia.

On March 26, 1914, Ilić told Mehmedbašić that the plan to kill Potiorek had been canceled by the Black Hand’s shadowy leadership—but added that a new plot was being organized against the life of the Archduke. Princip later claimed that he wrote to Ilić around Easter (April 12, 1914) to recruit him into the conspiracy, only to find that Ilić was already considering a similar plan. In the following weeks the conspiracy grew as Princip and Čabrinović recruited their friend Trifun Grabež in Belgrade (above, bottom row, left), while Ilić enlisted Vaso Čubrilović (bottom row, center) and Cvjetko Popović (bottom row, right), both living in Sarajevo.

Some of the conspirators later denied that they had any outside help organizing the “outrage” (as terrorist attacks were termed): At their trial, Čabrinović claimed, “In the company we frequented the conversations always turned on outrages… Nobody told us straight out: ‘kill him,’ but in those circles we came round to the idea by ourselves,” and Princip insisted, “The idea of it originated with us and it is we who carried it out.” But they were almost certainly inspired and directed by members of the Black Hand, led by the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, codename Apis (below, left).

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For one thing, the plotters needed weapons; thus Princip got in touch with a middle-aged nationalist radical named Milan Ciganović (below, right), an employee of the Serbian national railway who’d fought in the Balkan Wars and belonged to the Black Hand. Ciganović sometimes worked for Major Vojislav Tankosić (below, center), who was in turn the right-hand man to Dimitrijević. Ciganović obtained four pistols and several small bombs from a Serbian military armory, which Princip claimed he sent to Ilić sometime in April, and it seems impossible that Ciganović would have done this without the knowledge and approval of Dimitrijević.

Furthermore, the whole story of anonymous newspaper clippings seems rather suspicious, as does the coincidence of Princip and Ilić spontaneously arriving at the same idea; while the clippings may have played some role in advancing the conspiracy (perhaps as a previously agreed signal) it seems more likely the entire plan was coordinated from an earlier date, following the failure of the plot against Potiorek. Through his spy network Dimitrijević likely heard of Franz Ferdinand’s visit to Sarajevo shortly after the Archduke agreed to the trip in mid-February, and well before it was publicized in the newspapers. According to several other accounts, Princip was in contact with Tankosić and Ilić as early as January, and Tankosić told him that the Black Hand had decided to kill the Archduke soon after.

Serbia’s civilian government smelled a rat: On March 18, Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić ordered an investigation of the Black Hand, which he rightly suspected of plotting a military coup against him because of his moderate stance towards Austria-Hungary. Eventually Pasic got wind of the plot against the Archduke from Ciganović, who was apparently an informer for the government inside the Black Hand. But it was all too little, too late.

Meanwhile on March 16, 1914, the bellicose Austrian chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, once again called for war in a conversation with the German ambassador to Vienna, Baron Heinrich von Tschirschky. But Tschirschky politely reminded Conrad that a key figure stood in the way—Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who opposed any suggestion of preemptive war.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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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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