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8 U.S. City Names That Might Have Been

It’s well known that New York was originally a Dutch colony named New Amsterdam. Less well known is the fact that, at the height of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, a fleet of two dozen Dutch ships sailed into the harbor and briefly retook control of the city from the British—so that for a short time starting in 1673, it was officially named New Orange.

But New York isn’t alone in changing its name (or rather, having its name forcibly changed), as these stories from all across the country prove. While some of these monikers were actually in use for a short time, none—fortunately—became permanent.

1. LAST CHANCE, MONTANA

In 1864, a group of prospectors known as the “Four Georgians” discovered gold in a remote gulch in Montana Territory. The discovery led to the establishment of a small mining camp in the area, which became informally known as "Last Chance." Within a year, the camp had become home to several hundred people, a handful of representatives of whom met in September 1864 to formalize the town’s name and administration. Given that the meeting took place in the fall, one of the names under consideration was “Squashtown”—but luckily for the citizens of what is now Helena, the state capital of Montana, a name honoring Helena in Arkansas (or Helena in Minnesota, depending on whose side of the story you’re on) was chosen instead.

2. PIG’S EYE, MINNESOTA

A defensive fort named Fort Saint Anthony, and later Fort Snelling, was established at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 1819. Attracted by the safety and protection that the fort provided, an impromptu village soon emerged around it—including a local tavern run by and named after a retired fur-trader named Pierre “Pig’s-Eye” Parrant. The settlement itself soon took on the Pig’s-Eye nickname too, but luckily that name wasn’t to last. In 1841, a French Catholic minister named Father Lucien Galtier established a chapel dedicated to Paul the Apostle on the banks of the Mississippi nearby, and by the time the capital of Minnesota Territory was appointed in 1849, the town too had been given the name of St. Paul.

3. SWILLING’S MILL, ARIZONA

In 1867, a man named Jack Swilling noticed the potential for farming a vast dry plain at the foot of the White Tank Mountains in central Arizona. Having founded his own irrigation company, Swilling returned to the area some months later to begin digging a canal to divert water from the Salt River into the White Tank valley; the following year, the handful of farms and homesteads that had emerged in the informal town of “Swilling’s Mill” successfully produced their first few meager crops. As the town continued to grow, one of its settlers, Darrell Duppa, suggested naming it after the legendary phoenix bird, representing a settlement springing from the ruins of a former civilization—and Phoenix, Arizona, was born.

4. CLEAVELAND, OHIO

Andy B via Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

Cleveland, Ohio, was named after Connecticut-born lawyer and surveyor Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city while surveying the great Connecticut Western Reserve in 1796. According to local legend, the a was dropped from “Cleaveland” in the early 1800s so that the name of the town could fit on the front page of the local newspaper.

5. ALLIGATOR, FLORIDA

Lake City, Florida, was originally a Seminole settlement named Alpata Telophka, or “Alligator Village,” and that name remained in place after the area was colonized by European-American settlers in the early 1800s. The town name was changed in 1859—reportedly when the wife of a local politician, James McNair Baker, refused to hang her lace curtains unless the town changed its name to anything but Alligator.

6. WATERLOO, TEXAS

In the 1830s, a village was established at the confluence of the Colorado River and Shoal Creek in what is now Texas, and was—for reasons unknown—given the name Waterloo. In 1839, after Texas had gained its independence from Mexico, President of the Republic of Texas Mirabeau B. Lamar decreed that the capital should be relocated to Waterloo because of its visually pleasing location and abundant natural resources. The land was purchased by the state and the capital was officially relocated—and in the process Waterloo was renamed in honor of the “Founder of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin.

7. ALBURQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

Wikimedia // Public Domain

New Mexico’s most populous city was named after Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the 8th Duke of Alburquerque, a town in Spain on the Portuguese border. Quite where the name’s first letter r disappeared to is a mystery—although local legend would have you believe it all began when the name was misspelled on a local railway sign in 1880.

8. CROSS KEYS, PENNSYLVANIA

The town of Cross Keys was founded in 1754 and reportedly took its name from that of a local tavern. In 1814, the village—which stands in the heart of Amish territory in southern Pennsylvania—was perhaps looking to distance itself from its association with liquor when it chose a much less controversial name: Intercourse. Quite why the town chose this new name is unclear, with different explanations pointing to everything from the nearby entrance to a local race course to the former use of the word intercourse to mean “community” or “togetherness.” Either way, the name helped to make the town sign one of America’s most frequently stolen.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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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