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25 Things You Should Know About Tel Aviv

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For the 400,000 residents of Tel Aviv, Israel's very own Sin City, priorities include basking in the sun, finding the best espresso, and partying all night long. It's that very laid-back lifestyle that helped draw more than 3.3 million visitors in 2014. Read on for more facts about the city by the sea.

1. Founded in April 1909, Tel Aviv was the first modern Hebrew city. The area, once a large expanse of sand dunes, was originally called Ahuzat Bayit. A year later, the name was changed to Tel Aviv, meaning "Spring Mound." 

In 1949, David Ben-Gurion, who became the country's first Prime Minister, declared Israel's independence inside Tel Aviv's Independence Hall. At the time, Jordan controlled Jerusalem, so Tel Aviv served as the political capital until 1967.

3. Rainy days won't bring down city dwellers: Tel Aviv enjoys 300 annuals days of sunshine.

4. … Which means residents and tourists alike spend plenty of time outdoors. There are 13 official beaches over 8.7 miles. Each year, 8.5 million bathers come out to soak up the sun. Those not in the mood to splash in the water challenge friends to a game of Matkot, the Israeli version of raquetball, usually played on the sand or concrete.

5. National Geographic has deemed Tel Aviv the ninth best beach city in the world.


The best way to get around: Rent a bike for about $5, then cruise along the beachside promenade. There are more than 150 bikeshare stations around town.

7. One '90s trend is alive and well here: Once a week, nearly 300 rollerbladers hit the streets together for a group skate organized by Tel Aviv Rollers.

8. Tel Aviv is home to more than 100 sushi restaurants. As of 2010, it had the most sushi restaurants per capita after New York City and Tokyo. 

9. That's not the city's only claim to food fame. The Italian government awarded Tel Aviv's Pronto the title of "Best Italian Restaurant Outside of Italy."

10. On the sweeter side: Max Brenner, the international chain of chocolate restaurants and bars, began its empire in Ra'anana, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

In the mood for something lighter? Juice stands can be found on virtually every cornerand beachgoers often snack on watermelon with Feta cheese.

12. Often referred to as the Miami of the Middle East, Tel Aviv has been named one of the world's top party cities. Because Shabbat is observed on Friday, Thursday nights draw the biggest crowd, with revelers raging until dawn. Not surprisingly, it's also been called the city that never sleeps.

13. Another, more controversial nickname: "The Bubble," which references residents' largely secular approach to life, as well as how easy it is to forget about the political reality outside the city's borders.

14. Residents work as hard as they play. Tel Aviv University is the country's largest university and is ranked among the world's top 100 universities. Recently, researchers at the university developed a therapy that may treat mantle cell lymphoma, the most aggressive form of blood cancer.

15. Known as one of the world's most innovative cities, its startup scene is rivaled only by California's Silicon Valley. The city is home to more than 1500 companies(mostly tech) that employ 43,000 workers.

16. To help attract international startups, Tel Aviv offers incentive packages to entrepreneurs abroad. This includes temporary accommodation and workspace, as well as consulting and legal advice.

17. Thanks to young entrepreneurs and their startup fortunes, the city's property prices have increased by 84 percent since 2008.

18. In December, the $776 million Meier-on-Rothschild Tower complex opened. At 510 feet, it's Tel Aviv's tallest building. The 141 apartments range from $3 million to a $44.2 million, 15,263-square-foot penthouse with eight (!) bedrooms.

19. Tel Aviv's most impressive pieces of architecture are its 4000 Bauhaus buildings, known as the White City. Named a World Heritage Site, the white concrete structures are perched on leg-like pillars and have flat roofs.

In 2013, the mayor allocated $100,000, about a third of the city's total tourism budget, on a campaign to attract more gay tourists.

21. Now, the city hosts the largest Gay Pride parade in Asia and the Middle East. In June 2015, 180,000 people came out to celebrate, 30,000 of whom were tourists.

With more than 200 museums, Israel has the highest number of museums per capitain the world. Tel Aviv is home to country's three largest.

23. Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, is the biggest in the world specializing in the history of Judaism and the Jewish diaspora.

24. For 29 years, Tel Aviv's Nahalt Binyamin street has hosted an Arts & Crafts fair twice a week. Roughly 220 artists exhibit and sell their work, which includes glass dinnerware, jewelry and door signs.

25. Tel Aviv is home to the country's largest sports club, the Maccabi Football Club, which holds more titles than any other in Israel. Their biggest competitor: Hapoel Tel-Aviv, also located in the city.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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