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25 Things You Should Know About Milwaukee

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The city famous for cold brews and lake views knows how to throw a party. But even if Summerfest (or Oktoberfest, or Irish Fest, or Festa Italiana …) isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty of history and culture to go around. So pull up a stool—this round of facts is on us.

1. The first explorers of the Milwaukee area referred to it by various names, including Milwacky, Mahn-a-waukie, Melleorkie and Milwack, all of which borrowed from Native American titles that meant, depending on who you ask, “good land,” or “rich and beautiful land.”

2. Historians credit Milwaukee with having three founding fathers: Solomon Juneau, Byron Kilbourn, and George Walker. Juneau, a French-Canadian fur trader, established a town on the east side of the Milwaukee River, while Kilbourn, a wealthy businessman from Ohio, set up on the west side. The two sides did not play nice: Kilbourn, for one, published a map of the area that completely excluded Juneau’s claim. He also built streets that didn’t line up with those in Juneautown, creating the angled bridges that still span the river today. Walker, meanwhile, established a settlement on the south side of Milwaukee, in an area that’s today known as Walker’s Point.

3. Milwaukee’s roots as a beer-happy city trace back to the influx of German immigrants in the mid 19th century. They came seeking cheap land and refuge from a divided mother country—and they brought their superior brewing skills with them. By 1856, Milwaukee was home to more than two dozen breweries, including Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz and, of course, Miller.

4. Before it became the mega brewery known today as MillerCoors, Miller Brewing Company was a modest operation situated several miles west of Milwaukee. Founded by Frederick Miller, who immigrated to America after learning the art of brewing from an uncle in France, the brewery turned out a modest 1200 barrels of beer in 1855, its first year in operation. Today, some of the company's beers still use yeast descended from the supply Miller brought with him from Europe.

5.The modern typewriter—that is, the first version to be called a “typewriter” and to use the QWERTY key setup—was invented in Milwaukee. So large and unwieldy was it that one of the developers, a former newspaper editor named Christopher Latham Sholes, called it “a cross between a piano and a kitchen table.”

6. Milwaukee has a rich, albeit obscure, history of manufacturing automobiles, including the Kissel Kar, Nash, and the Ogden. In nearby Racine, Edward Joel Pennington and Thomas Kane created the gloriously named Kane-Pennington Hot Air Engine, in 1895.

7. Forget Democrats versus Republicans: The Socialist Party defined Milwaukee politics in the first half of the 20th century. The city became the first in the nation to elect a Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel, in 1910, and saw some of its most productive years under Daniel Hoan, a Socialist who held office from 1916 to 1940. Hoan’s term was soon after followed by Socialist Frank Zeidler, who served from 1948 to 1960. The party’s focus on infrastructure and public works in Milwaukee earned it the nickname “Sewer Socialism”—a pejorative that members heartily embraced.


8.
Milwaukee’s tradition of long-serving mayors continues. Since 1960, the city has had only four mayors and one of those was interim mayor Marvin Pratt, who served just three months.

9. Prohibition had a profound effect on Milwaukee’s breweries. To stay afloat, many of them sold alternative products like soda, non-alcoholic beer, candy bars, and even snow plows.

10. Milwaukee’s nickname of “Cream City” has nothing to do with the dairy industry or Eric Clapton. It stems from the light-colored bricks that builders used throughout the middle and late 19th century. Drawn from local clay deposits high in dolomite (a type of limestone) and magnesium, the bricks dirtied easily, and therefore many edifices made from Cream City bricks, like the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on North 9th Street, are significantly darker today than when they were built. Recent renovation efforts, however, are restoring some of these buildings to their former glory.


11.
It’s also known as the “City of Festivals” for the various cultural celebrations that take place during the summertime. There’s Festa Italiana, the country’s largest Italian heritage festival, which overflows with food and wine and last year included a replica of Rome’s Trevi Fountain. There’s also Polish Fest, Oktoberfest, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, and of course, the state fair, held in nearby West Allis.

12. In 1901, at the age of 21, mechanical engineer William Harley finished his design for a bicycle outfitted with a single-cylinder engine. He joined with his childhood friend Arthur Davidson, and together the two began turning out motorcycles inside a 10-by-15-foot shed on the Davidson family property in Milwaukee. Several years later, Harley would patent the first two-cylinder motorcycle engine, and proceed to leave his competitors in the dust. Today, Harley-Davidson maintains a museum and an 849,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, where workers craft the transmissions and engines that go into each motorcycle.

13. Ever wondered where to find the world’s largest dinosaur skull? Try the Milwaukee Public Museum, where a 9-foot-by-8-foot Torosaurus cranium, along with a partial skeleton, is on display.

14. Go to the Milwaukee Art Museum at around 10 a.m. and you’ll see a singular event unfold—literally. Large white wings situated atop the museum’s Windhover Hall slowly open, providing a graceful moving exhibit for visitors. The installation, known as the Burke Brise Soleil, has the wingspan of a Boeing 747, and contains sensors that will automatically close up if winds reach 23 mph or higher.


15.
Milwaukee residents were pretty bummed when the Braves baseball team—the team hammerin’ Hank Aaron led to a World Series title in 1957—decamped for Atlanta in 1966. Just a few years later, though, Milwaukee would be the beneficiaries of an inter-city transfer after the Seattle Pilots, established in 1969, went bankrupt after just one season. In 1970, the franchise moved 2000 miles east and became the Milwaukee Brewers.

16. Milwaukee’s vibrant immigrant community has made the city a hotbed for soccer. Clubs like the Croatian Eagles and the Bavarians have been in operation for nearly a century. The city is also home to the oldest continuously run professional soccer team in the U.S. — the Milwaukee Wave, of the Major Arena Soccer League.

17. A bronze statue commemorating one of Milwaukee’s most famous fictional characters, Arthur Fonzarelli, can be found on the Milwaukee Riverwalk south of Wells Street. “Bronzie” or “The Bronze Fonz,” as locals call it, stands 5’6”, the same height as Henry Winkler, the actor who played The Fonz. Despite being much loved by locals and tourists, the installation was decried by some in the art community before it was installed, including a gallery owner who called the city “intellectually bankrupt” in its decision. As the Fonz would say: “Sit on it!”


18.
One of the city’s most lavish and best-preserved homes belonged to Frederick Pabst, the man who gave the world Pabst Blue Ribbon. Located on West Wisconsin Avenue, the Pabst Mansion is a Victorian-style abode that includes 10 bathrooms, 14 fireplaces, and a main study filled with secret compartments.

19. If you’re ever flying into Milwaukee and notice the words “Welcome to Cleveland” scrawled across the roof of a building, don’t worry—your plane didn’t take a detour. That’s just the handiwork of Mark Gubin, a puckish local artist who nearly 40 years ago decided, on a whim, to write the large-scale greeting atop his studio. "There's not a real purpose for having this here except madness, which I tend to be pretty good at," Gubin told the Journal-Sentinel.

20. The tiny St. Joan of Arc Chapel, located on the campus of Marquette University, predates American independence by more than 300 years. Originally built in the French village of Chasse, the chapel was saved from the ruins of World War I, shipped across the Atlantic and rebuilt in New York. In 1964, the owners gifted the chapel to Marquette University, and over the course of nine months it was painstakingly installed on the campus. Today, it’s the only Medieval structure in the Western hemisphere where mass is regularly held.

21. One of the world’s largest collections of antique microphones is on display inside an electronics store on East National Street. Mic guru Bob Paquette has amassed a collection of more than 1000 microphones, most made before 1950, and most in working condition thanks to Paquette’s repairs. There’s the one used by Hitler in the Eagle’s Nest, and another that provided updates during an expedition to Antarctica. There’s also an 1876 telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell.

22. Close to one million music fans pack the Milwaukee waterfront each year for Summerfest—and they’re all really hungry. In 2014, concertgoers went through 66,011 burgers; 38,202 ears of corn; 96,344 mozzarella sticks; and 181,758 mini donuts.

23. Last summer, numerous residents and even a few city officials spotted a giant cat roaming around the city. Believed to be an escaped exotic pet, the Milwaukee lion, as it came to be known, was never captured. The only casualty during the whole episode was a bulldog named Homie, who was shot by a nervous resident (and thankfully recovered).

24. The city has nurtured a wide variety of musical talents, from Les Paul to Liberace. It’s also where Steve Miller, of the Steve Miller Band, played his first chords.

Getty


25.
The oldest bowling alley in America is located inside the Holler House on Lincoln Avenue. It’s a throwback experience in every sense: There are only two lanes, scoring is done by hand, and the lanes are tended by two pinsetters. There might be a wait to play, but you can always pass the time chatting with Marcy Skawronski, Holler House’s sharp-tongued 89-year-old owner/bartender. You can also marvel at the collection of bras hanging from the ceiling—a tradition Marcy herself started nearly 50 years ago.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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