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8 How-To Books From 100 Years Ago That Are Still Useful

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Nineteenth and early 20th century authors knew a thing or two about baby-naming, football-watching, drink-making, and more.

1. How to Name a Baby without Handicapping It for Life, by Alexander McQueen

We're living in an age in which any noun, president's last name, or word ending in –"dyn" can be hung round a child's neck for the rest of his or her life. However, this is not the first time in history there has been a naming free-for-all. This book, written in 1922, lays out "The Seven Rules of Naming." Some of them fly in the face of modern convention (such as insisting that a name should be pronounceable and indicate gender clearly), but maybe that's a good thing. Names warned against include Chateau Thierry, Centennia, Liberty Bond, and Fritz De LaRue. Approved names include Cuthbert, Theophilus, Meta (for a girl only!), and Wertha.

2. The Perfect Course of Instruction in Hypnotism, Mesmerism, Clairvoyance, Suggestive Therapeutics, and the Sleep Cure: Giving Best Methods of Hypnotizing by Masters of the Science, by The Psychic Research Company

This manual covers just about every use of your latent clairvoyant forces and extrasensory abilities you can conjure. Whether you want to learn hypnotism to use in your dental practice (though you shouldn't call it "hypnotism"; your patients might think you're a quack) or simply render a neighbor catatonic with your mind, this book tells you how to do it. And there is no doubt that the information written here, in 1901, is just as accurate today as it ever was.

3. How to Mix Drinks, by Jerry Thomas

How often do you come across a mixology book that will tell you how to ferment your own old-school absinthe? (The secret is in how long you macerate the wormwood!) How to Mix Drinks is from 1862 and offers 600 drink recipes, most of which you've never heard of, and a few of which are illegal in this country. But really, you know you don't want to let your youth slip by without ever trying a Raspberry Shrub, a Yard of Flannel, or a Philadelphia Fish-House Punch.

4. How to Make a Shoe, by Jno. P. Headley

It isn't just that this 1882 book aims to teach that seldom-tackled craft of making your own shoes. This book does it entirely in rhyme. One long wonderful 119-page, shoe-cobbling poem. Observe: Nails are driven, both iron and steel / Around the top, in mind / And on the outside some prefer / A few more nails to find.

5. How to Hunt and Trap, by Joseph H. Batty

This book is part instruction manual and part awkward novel about men exploring their manliness. But aside from that, the camping, hunting, trapping, and pelt-preparing information is beautifully illustrated and still applicable to the modern wilderness aficionado. Just don't forget to cross check the author's 1887 list of potential animals to hunt with a modern Endangered Species list. Because, wow, there is a lot of crossover.

6. How to Write a Novel

Today, the marketplace is glutted with book-writing techniques and short cuts. So this 1901 approach actually has a freshness to it; a stern simplicity. This extremely thorough book offers examples of technique among "our young writers," such as H.G Wells, and helps you through some pitfalls that you think the internet has solved for you but actually hasn't (topography, scientific accuracy, grammar, and so on).

7. Football and How to Watch It, by Percy Duncan Haughton

There was a time when the majority of Americans didn't understand football, as opposed to now, when it appears to be only me. There is no guarantee that this book, written in 1922, will make the game clearer. But it does offer many detailed photographs and diagrams and as a bonus, a florid, Mr. Burns-esque narration, ("Hence, the two-hundred pound fat boy is fast disappearing, and in his place appear strong, versatile athletes who must of all things be possessed with that quality best described as the ability to handle themselves with dexterity and even grace.")

8. Kites: How to Make and How to Fly Them, by George J. Varney

When you made a kite in 1897, you created a masterpiece of engineering and aeronautic art. Materials had to be just right (no lightweight tear-proof plastics or nylon strings), folds and knots had to be specific. This book is not for the trifling kiter. If you think you have what it takes to make the Kite Nymph (pretty lady soaring like an angel above you) or Chinese kites that sing, or the double box Clayton kite that can be used for atmospheric experiments, take a look at his book.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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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]