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Hundred-Year-Old Fashion Fad: The Hobble Skirt

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In 1914, the hobble skirt was all the rage. To eyes used to seeing women's bodies enveloped in yards of fabric, these skirts were a shocking reminder that women had ankles, legs, and derrières.

While rumors surround the moment when women's skirts went from heavy and billowing to light and tight—even the Wright Brothers claimed they came up with the fashion when they tied a string around an early passenger's flapping skirt—nobody knows for sure who invented this trend. The skirt's popularity can be traced to Paul Poiret's 1908 designs for select French clients, which featured dresses designed to be worn without petticoats or corsets. "Yes, I freed the bust," he wrote, "but I shackled the legs."

What hobble skirts' wearers gained in good looks, they sacrificed in mobility. As mass-produced copies of Poiret's new narrow, leg-emphasizing skirts hit American streets, women no longer strode or glided. Instead, they took tiny, mincing steps, wiggling their way into a full-blown fashion scandal.

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Though most women still wore corsets, they were more than glad to trade in their heavy petticoats (which could weigh up to 30 pounds) for this fresh new look. But the petticoat wouldn't go down without a fight. Public figures derided the new fashion and cartoonists lampooned the struggles of women to cross streets and climb into taxis. The New York Times played the guilt card with a huge spread on the economic impact of a world without petticoats—a decline in the textile industry, a rise in the cost of living, and lower wages resulting in a downright depression: "Think of that! Think of 10,000 people turned away from their possible means of livelihood, 10,000 families, perhaps, starving, just because women persist in following an ungraceful and immodest freak of fashion!"

By throwing away a garment long associated with chastity, warmth, and cleanliness, women were making the ultimate fashion statement. Armed with more leisure, more freedom, better educations, and better prospects than ever before, women were ready to do—and wear—what they pleased. They were also, unwittingly, giving ammunition to those who would argue against the growing calls for women's rights. A Chicago minister predicted that the Lord would smite women who wore the skirts. And an unnamed New York Times contributor mocked the fashion outright: "If women want to run for Governor, they ought to be able to run for a car....If they want to be legally free they shouldn't be sartorially shackled. But with the lack of logic that the sex can be counted on to display they have chosen a trammelled figure and shackled ankles when they need most to have them free in the strenuous race for equality with the trousered sex." What's next, pants for women?

Although hobble skirts ruffled feathers and even changed mass transit (the entrances to street cars and trains were dropped to accommodate tight-skirted passengers), their reign didn't last long. The outbreak of World War I brought fabric restrictions and reduced manpower to Paris. In France and America alike, the hobble skirt didn't seem to fit a new atmosphere of hard work, strict economy, and serious times. The hobble skirt was gradually discarded...but not before it killed off the petticoat for good.

References: 'As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising,' by Daniel Delis Hill (Texas Tech University Press, 2007); 'Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars,' by Jim Walker (Arcadia Publishing, 2007); 'America in the Age of the Titans: The Progressive Era and World War I,' by Sean Dennis Cashman (NYU Press, 1998); The New York Times, "THE HOBBLE" IS THE LATEST FREAK IN WOMAN'S FASHIONS, June 12, 1910 and WOMEN'S NARROW SKIRTS PLAY HOB WITH TEXTILE INDUSTRY, January 28, 1912; The Pittsburgh Press, Advantages and Disadvantages of the Hobble Skirt, July 15, 1910; The Nashua Telegraph, Scores Hobble Skirt, December 13,1910; Petticoats and Frock Coats: Revolution and Victorian-Age Fashions from the 1770s to the 1860s, by Cynthia Overbeck Bix, (Twenty-First Century Books, 2001)

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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]

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