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25 Things You Should Know About San Jose

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If you know the way to San Jose, as Dionne Warwick sang in her 1968 hit, you know Northern California’s South Bay city actually trumps San Francisco (48 miles to the north) in population (it ranks 10th in the nation with more than a million residents, while San Francisco is 13th) and size (it's more than 3.7 times the size of San Francisco with 180 incorporated square miles). Here are 25 things you should know about the Capital of Silicon Valley.

1. Spanish colonizers founded the city on November 29, 1777, and named it El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe after both Saint Joseph and the Guadalupe River.

2. A trio of California firsts: San Jose was the state’s first civilian settlement, the first capital from 1849 to 1852, and the first incorporated city on March 27, 1850.

3. The city’s Japantown celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2015. Before World War II, there were 43 Japantowns in California alone, but after the incarceration of Japanese during the war and the urban development that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, the only ones that still exist today are in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose.

4. San Jose also has had five Chinatowns. The first was established in 1866, but none survived past 1931. Three were destroyed in fires, one in a flood, and the last during the city’s redevelopment.

5. Nicknamed the Capital of Silicon Valley in the 1990s, San Jose’s largest high-tech employer is Cisco Systems with 13,600 employees as of 2013 [PDF]. Rounding out the top five are eBay with 4700, IBM with 4200, Hitachi with 2070, and Adobe Systems with 2000.

6. San Jose International Airport, which was renamed the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport in 2001 after the former United States Secretary of Transportation, now serves 8.3 million passengers a year. One of its largest guests was the elephant Tai, who shut down the now-demolished Terminal C for three nights in 1995 while filming Larger Than Life with Bill Murray.

7. With a long history of a low crime rate (32.8 crimes per 1000 residents [PDF]), SmartAsset ranked San Jose the sixth safest city in the nation last year.

8. After losing both her infant daughter and her Winchester rifle manufacturer husband, Connecticut native Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that her loved ones’ untimely deaths were caused by spirits killed by Winchester rifles and she might be next. Her solution: Move west and keep up continuous construction on a home for the spirits. She started building in 1884 and went nonstop through her death in 1922. The mansion, which has 950 doors, 10,000 windows, 40 stairways, 47 fireplaces, six kitchens, and "miles of twisting hallways," opened to the public in 1932 and offers 55-minute flashlight tours every Friday the 13th.

9. Krazy George Henderson, who began cheerleading at San Jose State in 1968, is credited as the inventor of The Wave. He first used it in a routine on October 15, 1981, during an Oakland A’s vs. New York Yankees game.

10. Pet quota! Current San Jose laws limit owners to five licensed animals total—and no more than three dogs. Yes, two dogs and three cats is okay, five cats are fine, but don’t dare break the law with two dogs and four cats.

11. Also illegal in San Jose? Plastic bags. The environmentally-friendly Bring Your Own Bag ordinance enacted January 1, 2012, prohibits grocery stores, pharmacies, and retailers from providing plastic carryout bags. The alternative: Paper bags “made of 40 percent post-consumer recycled material” as long as stores “charge a minimum of 10 cents per bag.”

12. One of California’s first wineries was San Jose’s Old Almaden Vineyards on Blossom Hill Road, established in 1852. The business survived Prohibition by using the grapes for juice and medicinal and sacramental wines, but the land later became a library and condos (part of the property was destroyed in a 1989 fire). The winery still operates, but now out of Madera, California, 121 miles from its original site.

13. Rock band Smash Mouth—famous for 1997’s “Walkin’ on the Sun” and 1999’s “All Star”—also calls San Jose home. Now-defunct local station KOME first played their demo, "Nervous in the Alley,” before they were signed to Interscope Records.

14. It has eight siblings. San Jose was the third to join the national Sister Cities program when it connected with Okayama, Japan, on May 26, 1957. The other seven sisters cities are: San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1961, Veracruz, Mexico, in 1975, Tainan, Taiwan, in 1977, Dublin, Ireland, in 1986, Pune, India, in 1992, Ekaterinburg, Russia in 1992, and Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2015.

15. For eight years in a row beginning in 2007, San Jose resident Joey Chestnut won the Fourth of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at New York City’s Coney Island—until 2015, when downing 60 dogs in 10 minutes just didn’t cut the mustard. He was edged out by 23-year-old Matt Stonie who ate 62 … and also hails from San Jose.

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16.
Speaking of big eats, San Jose’s Iguanas taqueria is home to Burritozilla, a five-pound, three-foot long burrito, made of three tortillas. Chestnut once finished it in an impressive 3 minutes and 10 seconds, but Stonie later gulped it down in a minute and 50 seconds.

17. Every holiday season, Christmas in the Park takes over Downtown with nearly half a million visitors exploring 500 decorated trees and 40 animated displays on two acres of Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The San Jose tradition started in the 1950s at Willow Glen’s Lima Family Mortuary lawn and moved to its current location in the 1980s. More than 5000 candy canes are handed out at the park’s Santa’s House annually.

18. The Del Monte Corporation (and its predecessors) processed fruits and vegetables in San Jose from 1893 to 1999 at Plant Number 3 located between San Carlos Street, Auzerais Avenue, and Los Gatos Creek. Seasonal employees made up a majority of the company's workforce, many of whom were working mothers.

19. The 55-year-old, 120-acre San Jose Flea Market on Berryessa Road, with more than 6000 weekly vendors, is where Amir meets his future wife in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 New York Times bestselling novel, The Kite Runner [PDF].

20. Established at the corner of West Saint John Street and North Almaden Boulevard in 1908, the new Progress Hotel, renamed the Torino Hotel in 1914, was a boarding house for new Italian immigrant workers and also known for serving generous portions of Italian food. In 1960, Henry Puckett took over the abandoned hotel and opened Henry’s Hi-Life, famous for its baby back ribs and for being featured on season one of Man Vs. Food.


21.
On top of Mount Umunhum (meaning “resting place of the hummingbird”)—technically in the 95120 zip code of San Jose’s Almaden Valley—is a five-story concrete radar tower that was used during the Cold War. Often called The Cube or The Box, the structure, completed in 1962, was used to detect incoming hostile aircraft at the former Almaden Air Force Station. Sitting on the fourth highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains with views of the Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, and Downtown San Jose, the summit was closed in 1980. There is currently an effort to reopen the area with trails, viewing areas, and a habitat in Fall 2016.

22. Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs in 1976, was born in San Jose. As one of the main benefactors to the purple triangle-shaped Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the street outside of it is named after him—Woz Way.

23. The 930-square foot Monopoly game board opened in Discovery Meadow in 2002 is the only officially licensed life-sized board in the world, and San Jose’s only Guinness Book of World Records attraction. Families can rent out the board to play for a $300 fee, which includes a game referee “specially trained to run a giant-sized Monopoly game” and “make sure you have fun.” 


24.
Caitlyn Jenner launched her Olympic training in 1973 in San Jose, where she and first wife Chrystie Crownover lived in a Fruitdale Avenue apartment. Jenner drove a VW bug and trained at San Jose City College and San Jose State University’s tracks. For almost 20 years, San Jose hosted a track and field invitational in her honor.

25. San Jose, hometown of 1996 gold medal-winning Olympics women’s gymnastics team member Amy Chow (who is now a physician), is continuing its transformation into “Gymnastics City, USA.” The 2016 Olympics trials for the sport will be held at SAP Center on July 8 and 10.

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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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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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