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Chloe Effron

25 Magnificent Facts About Oregon

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Chloe Effron

Founded in 1859, Oregon is known for its wild west past, its quirky present-day traditions, and its many natural marvels (including the world’s largest living organism). Here are 25 fascinating facts about America’s 33rd state.

1. Portland is home to the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland. Built in 1948 by World War II veteran Dick Fagan, Mills End Park is allegedly home to a group of invisible leprechauns, led by head leprechaun Patrick O’Toole. The park, which measures just two square feet, started out as little more than an empty hole created for a light post that was never placed. But Fagan, who worked across the street from the spot, was determined to turn it into something magical, and began planting flowers and spinning stories about the tiny leprechauns who called it home.

2. Crater Lake in south-central Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States (and one of the top 10 deepest in the world). Formed by the collapse of a volcano around 7700 years ago, the lake is close to 2000 feet deep, and is home to two islands: Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. 

istock

3. Oregon is home to the biggest mushroom on earth. Spanning approximately 2.4 miles in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, the enormous honey fungus is believed to be somewhere between 1900 and 8650 years old. 

4. Mushroom hunting is such a popular (and lucrative) activity in Oregon, the state even has its own mushroom festival. Held annually in Estacada, the Estacada Festival of the Fungus features a mushroom hunt, tastings, fungus-themed artwork, and mushroom identification classes. Oregon’s culture of mushroom hunting was even featured in the 2014 documentary The Last Season, which follows two professional mushroom hunters as they track down rare delicacies.

5. According to one 2012 report, Portland has the most bicyclists per capita of any city in the United States. The famously bike-friendly city isn’t just home to tons of bike commuters, however. An entire bike culture has cropped up in the city, including a popular weekly “Zoobombing” event, in which participants race tiny bikes downhill in the West Hills, and CHUNK bike construction, in which bike parts are combined creatively to make oversized, tall, or strangely shaped bicycles.

Simon Zirkunow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

6. Numerous movies and TV shows have been filmed throughout Oregon. In addition to the popular IFC comedy Portlandia, classic movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), and The Goonies (1985) were set, and filmed, in Oregon. Plus, there’s always the ever-popular Twilight franchise, which was set in Forks, Washington, but filmed throughout both Washington and Oregon.

7. Forest Grove is home to the world’s tallest barber pole. Built in 1973, the red, white, and blue striped pole is 72 feet high—nearly twice as tall as the previous pole to hold that title, a 40-foot-tall pole in San Antonio.

Casey Bisson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-NA 2.0

8. Legend has it that there’s buried pirate treasure somewhere on Neahkahnie Mountain on the Oregon coast. The story, which dates back hundreds of years, has been passed down for generations, and inspired hoards of treasure hunters, some of whom claimed to have discovered clues—but never any treasure.

9. Oregon is one of only five states with no sales tax (the others are Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana, and Alaska). Though the state does have an income tax, residents and tourists can enjoy tax-free shopping, with one exception: On January 1, 2016, the state enacted a 25 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana until the Oregon Liquor Control Commission takes over the regulation of cannabis sales later this year.

10. Albany in northern Oregon is home to The Historic Carousel Museum, which not only displays historic carousel animals and artwork, but is currently in the process of building its own hand-crafted working carousel featuring a "menagerie" of 52 animals. 

11. During the Great Depression, North Bend used wooden coins as currency. To this day, the coins are considered legal tender, though they’re coveted by coin collectors and rarely spent.

12. Oregon’s flag is the only state flag in the United States with a different design on each side. While the front features the escutcheon from the state seal in blue and gold, the reverse pictures a golden beaver.

 

iStock

13. The University of Oregon's mascot, the Oregon Duck, is based on Donald Duck. Created in 1947, it’s the only college team mascot based on a Disney character. 

14. No one knows exactly how Oregon got its name. Some believe the name is derived from the French word for hurricane (ouregan), others from the Spanish orejon, meaning "big ears."

15. There is evidence of humans living in Oregon as far back as 14,300 years ago. In 2012, Oregon’s Paisley Caves were placed on the National Register of Historic Places after human DNA was discovered on artifacts in the caves. To this date, it’s some of the earliest evidence of human habitation of North America. 

16. The Oregon Trail, which stretched 2200 miles, was the longest of the land routes used in the Western expansion of the United States.

17. Now the fourth largest city in Oregon, Gresham wasn’t officially recognized as a city until 1905. Known as Powell Valley throughout the 19th century—though sometimes referred to simply as “Camp Ground”—the area didn’t have a post office, and so, couldn’t officially establish itself as a city. One local business owner, Benjamin Rollins, petitioned then-postmaster Walter Q. Gresham in the 1890s, promising to name the city after him if he’d grant them a post office. Gresham did—and the rest is history. 

18. Southern Oregon has been trying to secede from the rest of Oregon since 1941. Disgruntled with a lack of representation, a group of southern Oregonians and northern Californians started campaigning for statehood back in the 1940s, proclaiming their independence, and renaming the area “The State of Jefferson.” On November 27, 1941, Jeffersonians stopped highway traffic, and announced their intention to “secede each Thursday until further notice.” Though the southern Oregon secession movement has lost some steam in recent years, there are still folks who proudly display the State of Jefferson flag. 

19. The capitol building in Salem burned down twice. First in 1855, before Oregon was even officially a state, the building constructed to be the territorial capital was destroyed by fire. Then, in 1935, the official state capitol building was engulfed in flame, destroying all but its metal frame. To this day, the cause of the fire is unknown, though reports in later years attributed the fire to “spontaneous combustion” in the building’s basement.

istock

20. Oregon was attacked during World War II. Starting in 1944, the Japanese military began launching unmanned balloon bombs toward the west coast of the United States in the hopes that some would explode over inhabited areas. Around 350 bombs made it to the United States (some as far east as Iowa), but the U.S. military managed to intercept most of them. The only casualties suffered occurred in Gearhart Mountain, Oregon, where six people (five of them children) on a picnic accidentally triggered one of the balloons. Their deaths are believed to be the only combat casualties on continental U.S. soil during World War II.

21. Hells Canyon in eastern Oregon is the deepest river-cut canyon in the United States. It’s 7993 feet deep, and stretches through Oregon and Idaho. Famous for its spectacular views and whitewater rafting along the Snake River, there are no roads across its 10-mile wide expanse.

22. Reed College in Portland is the only liberal arts college in the world with a nuclear reactor run by undergraduates. Built in 1968, the reactor is used as a research and teaching facility by the school, and is manned by 40 students. 

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

23. The official Oregon state fish is the Chinook salmon, and the official state animal is the beaver. Both animals are indigenous to the area, and Oregon is sometimes unofficially called “The Beaver State.”

24. Mount Hood is often said to be the second-most climbed mountain in the world (the first is usually cited as Japan’s Mount Fuji). Though plenty of humans have scaled its peaks, the record for most ascents may belong to a dog named Ranger, who allegedly climbed the mountain 500 times between 1925 and 1939. After his death in 1940, the intrepid canine mountaineer was buried at the summit of Mount Hood.

25. In 1880, Rutherford B. Hayes became the first United States president to visit Oregon, 21 years after the state was officially incorporated. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, meanwhile, are tied for the most trips to the state, with five visits each.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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