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New York Public Library Digital Gallery

10 Elaborate Floor Plans from Pre-WWI NYC Apartments

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New York Public Library Digital Gallery

By the mid-1800s, most of New York City's upper and middle class still lived in private stand-alone homes while apartment life was a feature of the working and lower class. Inspired by multi-residence buildings that were all the rage in Paris, New York developers began introducing the idea of "French flats" to monied Manhattanites around 1870. The idea caught on, and by the turn of the 20th century, about half of the wealthy city residents had opted for apartment-style living.

Eager to attract even more upper class families—especially as laws allowed buildings to grow taller and subways made them more accessible—real estate developers in the first few decades of the 1900s released a series of pamphlets advertising attractive options. The floor plans below are all taken from 1908 and 1910 brochures. But just because they were giving up their mansions didn't mean these upper and middle class families were ready to forgo luxury. The apartments feature up to a dozen rooms each—although any New York readers will undoubtedly do a double-take at the prices for these swanky digs.

1. The Langham

This 46-apartment building stretched the entire Central Park West block from 73rd to 74th Streets. Facilities for washing, drying and ironing are available on the top floor and accommodations for servants were available in the basement. Rents started at $4500—per year.

2. The Dorilton

There were four apartments per floor in this building, which was located at the intersections of Broadway, Amsterdam Ave and 72nd Street. The entryway was reached via a long driveway and the interior was decorated in the opulent style of Louis XVI. Rents ranged from $1700 to $4000 ... again, yearly.

3. The Ansonia

Even though they had the city at their fingertips, residents of the 350 suites at the Ansonia hardly ever had to leave their stunning, French Renaissance-style abode. The hotel-slash-apartment complex also housed food markets, laundry, liquor and cigar stores, florists, a bank, dentists, and physicians.

4. The Apthorp

These first floor apartments at the Apthorp, occupying an entire block on the Upper West Side, were all duplexes situated around a manicured courtyard. The second floor bedrooms were shown on a missing page.

5. The Chatsworth

For families still ambivalent about apartment living, the Chatsworth offered a semi-freestanding mansion, called the "Annex," that was attached to the main building on just the first floor. Each floor of the Annex was its own 11-room apartment.

5. The Brentmore

Each one of the apartments inside the lavish Central Park-adjacent Brentmore had its own private elevator. As with the Anthorp, the bedrooms for the above residences were all on a second floor page that is missing from the pamphlet.

6. The Barnard

As a beacon of luxury living, the Barnard boasted an array of "modern" accoutrements: telephones in each apartment, mail chutes, clothing dryers, and separate bathrooms for your servants in the basement.

7. 44 West 77th Street

One of New York's earliest co-operative establishments, this unnamed apartment building claimed to appeal to families who were "socially inclined and looking for 'class.'"

8. The Colosseum

There were just 16 apartments in the 14-story Colosseum, which boasted proximity to Columbia University in its listing. Inside the unusually shaped building were rooms finished with mahogany wood and ivory enamel.

9. The Belnord

The main feature of this colossal, 176-apartment residence was the sprawling courtyard of over 22,000 square feet.

10. The Wyoming

Among the modern luxuries—like laundry facilities—that each apartment in the Wyoming came with was an "air vacuum dust-removing apparatus," which likely refers to a built-in predecessor to the handheld vacuum that cropped up for a short time in the very early 1900s.

All images courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]