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Franz Ferdinand Wants Peace in the Balkans

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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 121st installment in the series. 

June 13, 1914: Franz Ferdinand Wants Peace in the Balkans

Depending who you ask, the meeting on June 12-13, 1914 between Kaiser Wilhelm II and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the thrones of Austria and Hungary, was either a war council—or the exact opposite. Actually it was probably a little bit of both. 

The German emperor was supposedly just paying a friendly visit to the Archduke’s beautiful chateau in Konopischt, Bohemia (today Konopiště, Czech Republic, above), where they could go hunting and stroll in the estate’s enormous rose gardens. But the real purpose was to get Wilhelm—and thus Germany—on board for Austria-Hungary’s new strategy in the Balkans. 

Like all good strategies, this involved a number of contingency plans, including the possibility of war against Serbia, should the truculent Slavic kingdom refuse to bend to Austria-Hungary’s will. Thus Franz Ferdinand asked Wilhelm if Germany would support Austria-Hungary if she moved against Serbia, and probably received assurances that Germany would stand by her ally, in line with Wilhelm’s previous statements (the record here is unclear).

But whatever Wilhelm’s response, the June 13 exchange was hardly evidence of a plot to attack Serbia in the near future, as some historians later interpreted it. For his part the Archduke still opposed war with Serbia, and only inquired about Germany’s attitude at the request of Emperor Franz Josef, who in turn was probably prompted by Foreign Minister Berchtold and chief of the general staff Conrad. If Franz Ferdinand had anything to say about it, this scenario would remain strictly hypothetical.

In fact the Archduke was sympathetic to Austria-Hungary’s Slavic peoples, and hoped to reconcile them to Hapsburg rule (thereby neutralizing the Serbian threat) by reforming the empire—either by adding a third monarchy representing the Slavs, or reinventing it as a federal state with more autonomy at the local level. The obstacle in both cases was certain opposition from the Hungarians, who wielded disproportionate power in the Dual Monarchy and refused to grant their non-Hungarian subjects more rights.

Indeed Franz Ferdinand warned Wilhelm that the Hungarians weren’t just antagonizing the Slavs: the powerful Hungarian Premier István Tisza was also creating a huge foreign policy headache with his repressive measures against Hungary’s ethnic Romanian population, which in turn alienated the neighboring Kingdom of Romania—long associated with the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, but now drifting to the Triple Entente of Russia, France, and Britain. In fact the Romanians were about to host Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov in a state visit to the Black Sea port of Constanța—yet another ominous development.

The main message the Archduke communicated to the Kaiser on June 13 concerned this complicated situation and what Germany could do to help solve it. Vienna was cultivating an alliance with Bulgaria as a counterweight to Romania, he confided, but the best thing would be to keep Romania in the Triple Alliance, reconcile her with Bulgaria, and thus form a new balance of power that would intimidate Serbia and lock Russia out of the Balkans. To accomplish this, however, the Hungarians had to stop mistreating their own Romanians—and Franz Ferdinand believed the only way Tisza might yield on this issue was if Austria-Hungary’s powerful ally, Germany, sent a clear message that Hungary needed to moderate its domestic policies in order to keep Romania friendly.

The Kaiser promised he would speak to Tisza when he saw him next, but the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 changed everything—clearing the way for war against Serbia and putting the Romanian question on the back burner, where it remained until it finally boiled over in the middle of the Great War.

Meanwhile, Russian intelligence caught wind of the meeting and passed on selected details—specifically, Wilhelm’s promise to support Austria-Hungary if it attacked Serbia—to the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević (codename Apis), who would later try to justify the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the grounds that he was a warmonger preparing a surprise attack on Serbia. Of course this was the exact opposite of the truth, and anyway the plot had been put in motion long before the meeting at Konopischt; in short Dimitrijević was probably just looking for excuses after the fact. 

New French Government Upholds Three-Year Service Law

In France, June 13, 1914 brought the resolution the worst political crisis experienced by the Third Republic since the infamous Dreyfus Affair. Following the victory of the leftist Radicals and Socialists in elections held in April and May, 1914, the stage was set for an all-in battle over the controversial Three-Year Service Law of 1913, which aimed to increase the size of France’s standing army by extending the term of service for army conscripts from two to three years. The leftists were determined to overturn the law but President Poincaré, a conservative, was equally determined to preserve it. 

In the first weeks of June 1914 Poincaré tried again and again to find someone in the new left-dominated Chamber of Deputies who could form a new government that would uphold the law—but failed repeatedly. On June 12 his most recent candidate for Premier, the moderate Alexandre Ribot, was hooted down in the Chamber amid calls for the end of the Three-Year Service Law. But the amusement was wearing off and French public opinion was starting to turn against the entire political class, which seemed incapable of fulfilling even the most basic tasks of government—a feeling familiar to 21st century Americans. As newspapers across the political spectrum heaped ridicule on the Chamber of Deputies, opposition among the Radicals (who despite their name were actually moderate compared to the Socialists) began to crumble, raising hope of a compromise.

It fell to René Viviani, Poincare’s first choice for premier a few weeks before, to form a new government through some political sleight-of-hand, otherwise known as lying. On June 13, 1914 Viviani formed a new cabinet dominated by moderate leftists who told their constituents they were committed to overturning the Three-Year Service Law – but then reversed their position as soon as the Chamber voted to approve the cabinet. Indignant, the Socialists withdrew their support, but the Radicals were able to muster enough votes to keep the government in power. The Three-Year Service Law was safe … for now. 

“Russia is Ready, France Must Be Ready Too!”

Upholding the Three-Year Service Law was crucial to preserving France’s alliance with Russia, the cornerstone of French national security. Just in case anyone forgot was at stake, on June 13, 1914 the Russian war minister, Vladimir Sukhomlinov, published an anonymous op-ed in Birzheye Vedomosti, a Russian newspaper that often served as an official mouthpiece, titled “Russia is Ready, France Must Be Ready Too!” 

The article pointed out that Russia was building strategic railroads and preparing to increase its standing army to 2.3 million men and urged France to maintain the Three-Year Service Law, raising the French standing army to 770,000 men. Only then could would they have a decisive advantage against Germany and and Austria-Hungary, with standing armies of 880,000 and 500,000, respectively.

Sukhomlinov’s opinion piece sent a clear message to friend and foe alike, including Germany, where its inflammatory rhetoric only stoked paranoia about encirclement. When Kaiser Wilhelm received a translated version he scribbled angry notes in the margins, noting that Russia’s strategic railroads were “All against Germany!” and concluding “Well! Finally the Russians have shown their hand. Any person in Germany who does not now believe that the Russo-Gauls are not working together at high tension for a war with us very soon and that we should take corresponding counter-measures deserves to be sent to the lunatic asylum…” 

A few days alter Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg passed the article along to the German ambassador to London, Prince Lichnowsky, with this gloomy note: “The reaction on German public opinion has been unmistakable and serious. Whereas formerly, it was only the extremists among the Pan-Germans and militarists who urged that Russia was making systematic preparation for a war of aggression upon us very soon, even moderate public men are now inclined to this view…”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

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]

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