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5 Previous Attempts To Split Up California

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istock

California is the third-largest state in the United States, with the Union’s largest population and economy. From the very beginning, it’s been a hard state to govern – and more than once, people have tried to fix California by cutting it into smaller states. There have been over 200 attempts to break up (or break away from) California; here are some the most important.

1. The Great Republic of Rough and Ready

No sooner had California been formed than people were already trying to get away from it. The 3,000 miners of Rough and Ready resented the new state of California for its heavy taxes and failure to maintain order. On April 7, 1850, they seceded from the state (and the Union). They revoked their secession in order to celebrate July 4 with a clear conscience (and to land a lucrative federal post office).

2. The State of Colorado

The antics of a few miners paled next to the growing crisis in America over slavery. Southern leaders hated the idea of a giant new free state. From 1850 to 1861, pro-slavery legislators introduced bills every year to divide the state. The state assembly passed one bill in 1854, to divide the state into the states of Colorado, California, and Shasta, but the state senate failed to pass it. The legislature and the governor passed a second attempt in 1859, which would have created a new state of Colorado out of southern California, but the arrival of the Civil War kept the proposal from reaching Congress.

3. From the Civil War to Jefferson

The Civil War made secession decidedly unfashionable, and the arrival of the railroads and the telegraph made it easier to govern such a large state. For decades, the tensions between California’s north and south and between the vast rural hinterlands and the big cities were tamped down. The last straw for the neglected northern counties was the Great Depression. In late 1941, Mayor Gilbert Gable of Port Orford, Oregon suggested that the northern counties of California should join the southern counties of Oregon in forming the new state of Jefferson. The proposal gained national attention when a group of armed hotheads blocked traffic on a national highway – but the attack on Pearl Harbor less than two weeks later ended the Jefferson movement.

4. Utopias

The social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s created a new wave of idealist secessionists. In March 1964, a small group of Native American activists protested at the abandoned prison of Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. A larger group returned in November 1969; at its height, the occupying activists had a population of 400. Federal law enforcement removed the last 15 occupiers on June 11, 1971. Other idealists dreamt of carving part of California out for themselves; the writer Ernest Callenbach wanted northern California to join the new nation of Ecotopia, an idea that spawned the Cascadia secession movement of the 21st century. A few Hispanic activists began calling for the integration of southern California into a new Spanish-speaking nation of Aztlán. And offshore, libertarians wanted to go even farther and create their own havens; the late 1960s saw failed attempts to create the platform nations of Taluga and Abalonia (the wreckage of which is now an attractive artificial reef).

5. The Return of Regionalism

While radicals of various stripes pursued their dreams, many legislators took up the idea of dividing the state in the 1960s for more practical reasons. Cultural differences between the cities and rural areas were aggravated by disputes over water management and annoyance over duplicated state offices in the north and south. A bill to divide north and south California passed the state Senate in 1966. Another proposal to split the state into thirds passed the state House of Representatives in 1993. Since then, the idea has percolated widely, and several northern counties have voted to resurrect the Jefferson project, but no serious proposal has come close to approval.

Today: The Six Californias Movement

Tim Draper, a billionaire best known for his investments in Hotmail and Skype, became the latest backer of a plan to split up California when he announced his Six Californias initiative in December 2013. Draper asserts that the state’s prison problem, high taxation, and educational outcomes show California is ungovernable in its current form. Opponents of the plan argue the state’s division would create administrative chaos and bitter disputes over taxes, water rights, and many other issues. Whatever a person’s position, they’ll have a chance to vote on it: thanks to a petition with 800,000 signatures, the Six Californias Initiative will go before California voters on the November 2016 ballot.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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