CLOSE
Original image
wikimedia commons
entertainment
arrow

Assassins Prepare Amid Rumors of Serbian Coup

Original image
wikimedia commons

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 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 116th installment in the series.

May 7 - 8, 1914: Assassins Prepare Amid Rumors of Serbian Coup

The Serbian army’s show of defiance against its supposed civilian masters in April 1914 was the catalyst for a coup attempt organized by the head of military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević (codename Apis, also the head of Crna Ruka, “Unity or Death,” otherwise known as the Black Hand—top row, left) against the government of Nikola Pašić. In May, the conspiracy gathered momentum, as the mutinous mood spread and the Black Hand newspaper Pijemont warned “bloody clashes between the army and police can be expected any minute.”

The growing tensions didn’t escape the notice of foreign observers. On May 7, 1914, the French ambassador to Serbia, Léon Descos, reported signs of dissent as well as the government’s attempts to purge Dimitrijević’s supporters through forced retirement, which only made the officers angrier: “The officers are in a ferment and hold meetings; the police keep them under observation and this irritates them. There are announcements of several resignations and placings on the retired list among the highest commands in the army. The army paper Pijemont… forecasts fresh turmoil.”

Austria-Hungary was understandably alarmed by the prospect of ultranationalist army officers seizing power in Serbia; while no great fans of Pašić, Foreign Minister Berchtold and chief of the general staff Conrad at least recognized that he was moderate compared to certain elements in the Serbian military. On May 8, 1914, the Austrian ambassador to Belgrade, Baron von Giesl, reported: 

The conflict between the government and the conspirator party (Crna Ruka)… has become so aggravated in the last few weeks that a violent clash between the two rivals for power seems not impossible… The King, who owes his throne to the conspirators, does not quite venture to side openly with them, but his sympathies belong to the Crna Ruka, as do those of the Crown Prince… I regard the possibility of violent eruptions, even of an overthrow of the Government or a coup d’etat, as not entirely inconceivable developments… unless the Government at the last moment capitulates to the military party, as it has done up to now.

In fact, that is more or less what happened: Ultimately, Dimitrijević’s coup attempt failed because King Peter moved to conciliate the officers by forcing Pašić and his cabinet to resign in early June 1914. This triggered new elections, leaving Serbia without an official government in the fateful month of July 1914.

Of course, even before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the fall of the Serbian government was nothing for Vienna to celebrate, as Giesl warned that no matter what happened, “the determining factor in Serbia, the army, is filled with Yugoslav chauvinism and hate for Austria-Hungary and will force a nationalist-chauvinistic and anti-Austrian bias upon the policy of whatever Government there may be.” In short, Serbia would remain a thorn in the side of the Dual Monarchy no matter who was in charge.

Plotters Train in Belgrade

In May 1914, three conspirators recruited by the Black Hand—Gavrilo Princip (bottom row, left), Nedeljko Čabrinović (bottom row, center), and Trifun Grabež (bottom row, right)—started preparing for the assassination of the Archduke, who was scheduled to visit Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia, after observing Austria-Hungary’s annual military maneuvers in late June.

The aspiring assassins, all then residing in the Serbian capital Belgrade, were provided with weapons and training by Milan Ciganović (top row, right), an employee of the Serbian state railways, and associate of Major Vojislav Tankosić (top row, center), who in turn was Dimitrijević’s right-hand man in the Black Hand. At Tankosić’s order Ciganović, a veteran of the Balkan Wars, took the plotters to Topčider Park, a quiet, wooded area in Belgrade, for target practice, where Princip soon distinguished himself as the best shot.

Eventually Tankosić and Ciganović supplied the assassins with six grenades, four pistols, a map of Bosnia, cyanide pills (to commit suicide if they were about to be caught), and some money. They also arranged for them to be smuggled across the border into Bosnia by Black Hand members who were serving as officers of the frontier guard; the assassins would begin the journey to Sarajevo in late May.

Meanwhile, the Archduke was apparently having second thoughts about the visit to Bosnia: Around this time, his personal secretary recalled that Franz Ferdinand grumbled that he “would have much preferred it if the Emperor had entrusted the mission to someone else.” In fact the Archduke repeatedly tried to get his uncle, the Emperor Franz Josef to cancel the visit, but to no avail—and then he began having premonitions.

In early May, he told his nephew Karl (who would become the last emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1916): “I know I shall soon be murdered. In this desk are papers that concern you. When that happens, take them, they are for you.” Not long after, his beloved wife Sophie, also worried about the visit to Bosnia, told her friend and fellow outcast from royal society, the Countess Larisch: “It is a dangerous undertaking, and I will not leave the Archduke to face it alone.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES