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25 Things You Should Know About Dallas

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The Lone Star State's third-largest city is a sprawling metroplex, boasting a rich history, signature snacks, and internationally-recognized architecture. Read on to learn more about the place residents call the "Big D."

1. The world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Dallas Theater Center’s Kalita Humphreys Theater, a gorgeous performance space located in the Turtle Creek area of the city. According to the official DTC site, it’s the only freestanding theater Wright designed that was built to completion. The last home Wright designed before his death in 1959, the John A. Gillin House, is also located in Dallas.

2. Everyone’s favorite 24/7 snack destination, 7-Eleven, got its start in Dallas as an outgrowth of an ice-selling operation; in addition to blocks of ice, the Southland Ice Company began selling grocery staple items like milk and eggs to customers in 1927. The company moved into selling gasoline in 1928, eventually adding more goods and services as time went on. The Slurpee, originally known as the icee, and its attendant brain freeze was unleashed on customers in 1965.

 


3.
The home of Tex-Mex is also the birthplace of the frozen margarita machine. A young restaurateur named Mariano Martinez hit upon the idea after a visit to, well, 7-Eleven. Martinez told The Dallas Morning News, “I had a sleepless night and the next day, I stopped to get a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven and I saw that Slurpee machine. The entire concept hit me at one time.” His machine now lives at the Smithsonian.

4. You can still go see movies at the historic landmark theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. As it turns out, he wasn’t initially arrested for the murder of President John F. Kennedy at the Texas Theatre but for the killing of a local police officer named J.D. Tippit. Oswald had snuck into a screening of War is Hell to evade officers on the hunt for Tippit’s killer. Today, the Texas Theatre screens art house and repertory films, and hosts special events.

5. Big Tex is the official mascot of the State Fair of Texas, which takes place in the Fair Park area of Dallas. Big Tex made national news when he caught fire in 2012, the year of his 60th birthday, but he was rebuilt in time for the 2013 fair. Plus, he’s bigger and better than ever. The 2013 iteration of Big Tex is 55 feet tall, compared to the original 52 feet. Heck, even his cowboy hat is bigger: the original was a mere 75-gallon hat, whereas now he sports a hefty 95-gallon lid. 

6. You can visit the graves of the infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Dallas, but you’ll have to make two separate trips. Although the lovers died together during a police ambush in Louisiana, they’re buried in different graveyards. Arthur Penn’s Oscar-winning film Bonnie and Clyde filmed some scenes on location in and around Dallas.

 

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7.
Every airport seems like a schlep, but the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is actually as big as it feels—or maybe even bigger. It covers almost 27 square miles, which makes it larger than the island of Manhattan.

8. German chocolate cake isn’t actually German at all. It’s named after Sam German, the genius who came up with the delicious dark chocolate used in the recipe. The recipe itself was first published as a recipe of the day in The Dallas Morning Star in 1957.

9. Doc Holliday is most famous for his role as a gun-slinging dude who was part of the gun fight at the O.K. Corral, but Holliday (né John Henry Holliday) was also a professional dentist before his gambling habits got the best of him. Before buddying up with Wyatt Earp, he worked as a practicing dentist in downtown Dallas.

10. Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood is known for its trendy nightlife destinations and live music, but back before the cool kids were packing ‘90s venues like Trees, the area was a performance destination for masterful blues musicians including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, T-Bone Walker, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith.

11. Although Robocop takes place in a dystopian Detroit, there are a number of exterior shots featuring famous Dallas locations. Although a few are easy to spot, like Reunion Tower, others require a keener eye. Film locations include the Plaza of the Americas, the ballroom of Deep Ellum’s Sons of Hermann Hall, the inside of the infamous Starck Club, and Dallas City Hall. 

 
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12.
 Texas Instruments’ own Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his invention of the integrated circuit, otherwise known as a microchip. He also helped invent the personal calculator, along with fellow TI engineers Jim Van Tassel and Jerry Merryman.

13. Barney & Friends was birthed in the Big D by Kathy Parker and Sheryl Leach, who hit upon the idea while stuck in a traffic jam on Central Expressway (an experience any DFW native can relate to). Not only did it result in big bucks for Leach and co., it also proved to be a game changer for the actor who played Barney from 1992 to 2000. David Joyner told Buzzfeed, “Back then, when I was single and I was dating, yeah, I was pretty well known in the Dallas area … If I ever mentioned that I played Barney, [women would be] like, ‘Ooh wow! Ohhhh OK.' … You’d be surprised how well that works. … Not that I would use it as a pick up line.” Uh huh. Sure.

14. Laser Tag was invented in Dallas by George Carter, who initially dubbed the new game “Photon.” Carter told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired by Star Wars, explaining, “Watching scenes of them running up and down the hallways of the spaceships looked like fun.” 

15. Although Southfork Ranch is technically in Parker, Texas, the site for Dallas is but a horseshoe’s throw from Dallas proper. You can take a tour of the ranch and get the scoop on all things Ewing, from where Bobby’s funeral was filmed to props like the gun that shot J.R. There’s a Southfork Hotel nearby in Plano if you feel like putting your boots up for the night.

 


16.
Bette Nesmith Graham went from a single mom supporting her family as a secretary to a business whiz when she invented Liquid Paper, which she initially referred to as Mistake Out when she first began selling it in 1956. Graham sold Liquid Paper to Gillette in 1979 for a cool $47.5 million. If her name sounds somewhat familiar, it could be because her son, Mike Nesmith, is famous as one of the Monkees.

17. Dallas almost had its very own legal red light district in the early 1900’s. According to documents found by the Dallas Public Library's Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division, “By 1906 the Dallas City Commissioners had proposed that the area of northwest downtown Dallas, Frogtown, become a sanctioned red light district.” It was a hotly contested proposition, especially by the North Dallas Improvement League. By 1911, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Dallas would have to enforce the state’s laws against prostitution “because the city commissioners could not suspend state law, only the state legislature could do that.”

18. Dallas is home to an impressive number of museums dedicated to fine arts and culture, from smaller venues like the Bath House Cultural Center to the massive Dallas Museum of Art, whose collection spans thousands of years. There is also the excellent African American Museum of Dallas, the Dallas Holocaust Museum, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and of course the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, for all your JFK needs. 

19.
 The Dallas Cowboys have five Super Bowl championships, but without Dallasite Lamar Hunt, they wouldn’t have any at all. That’s because Hunt, one of the founders of the AFL and the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, came up with the term “Super Bowl” itself way back in 1967. 

20. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were originally named the CowBelles & Beaux. They got their current name in 1972, when Cowboys president and GM Tex Schramm hired a choreographer and ushered in a new era of cheerleading entertainment. The DCC became so iconic that they inspired the adult film Debbie Does Dallas; after the film's release, the cheerleading organization sued Pussycat Cinema for trademark infringement, and won.

 
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21.
Woodrow Wilson High School boasts a slice of tasty history trivia related to its namesake. According to Congressional records, there’s a slice of Jessie Wilson Sayre’s wedding cake in the cornerstone of the building. It’s not quite clear why the architect decided the best way to honor Woodrow Wilson was to include a piece of cake from the president’s daughter’s wedding, but it’s certainly a unique way to pay homage. 

22. The ritzy Highland Park Village, which opened in 1913, is America’s first shopping center. If you’re in the market for luxury goods or just some old-fashioned window-shopping, Highland Park Village is the place to be; the shops include Céline, Dior, Jimmy Choo, Saint Laurent, Christian Louboutin, and Chanel, for starters. 

23. You can’t go anywhere without running into an ATM these days, and that’s at least partially due to the ingenuity of one Dallas-based exec. Don Wetzel worked at Docutel, a company that specialized in automated baggage-handling equipment, and he hit upon the idea when he was in line at the bank way back in 1968. He told Fortune, "Golly, all the teller does is cash checks, take deposits, answer questions like 'What's my balance?' and transfer money between accounts,” concluding, “Wow, I think we could build a machine that could do that!” Although other companies were working on various iterations of an automatic money-dispensing machine, Wetzel and Docutel are officially recognized as the inventors of this ever-present gadget.

24. Anyone who’s spent time in Dallas during the summer (or the spring or even sometimes the fall) knows its hot weather is no joke. The historic Adolphus Hotel, which is located in downtown Dallas, was the first hotel in the world to provide central air conditioning for its visitors. The hotel was built in 1912, and it took them up until 1950 to come up with central A/C, making for almost 40 years of disgustingly sticky guests.

25. Dallas’ infamous Starck Club was a hotspot for the rich, famous, and wonderfully weird in the ‘80s. (Grace Jones performed there on its opening night.) It was also notorious for the open sales and use of MDMA, which was legal until 1985. MDMA reportedly got its nickname Ecstasy from Michael Clegg, who began selling massive amounts of the drug to Dallas clubgoers back when he was still in seminary school. The Starck was raided after MDMA was made illegal in 1985. You can learn more about these heady days — well, nights — in the documentary The Starck Club.

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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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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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