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Conelrad.com

4 Atomic-Themed 1950s Beauty Queens

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Conelrad.com

During the 1950s, the American people suffered from a severe case of Atomic Fever. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the establishment of a permanent atomic test site in the Nevada desert, the U.S. had firmly positioned itself as leader in the atomic game. As a result, we simply went crazy for all things atomic. And sometimes our fervor showed up in some pretty strange places.

Ad men and designers were quick to jump on the atomic bandwagon, and incorporated the atomic motif in everything from children’s toys—the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab set, with real radioactive materials, being a prime example—to hairstyles and lamps designed to look like mushroom clouds.

Nowhere was Atomic Fever more prevalent than Las Vegas. A mere 65 miles southeast of the Nevada Test Site, where more than 1000 nuclear devices were detonated between 1951 and 1992, Las Vegas was quick to cash in on its proximity. Bars, restaurants, hotels—essentially anywhere with a roof and a view—hosted atomic blast viewing parties on their roofs, often offering complimentary sunglasses and sunshades to their blast-viewing patrons.

As far as we can tell, there were four separate showgirl-turned-beauty-queens. Despite popular belief, there was no single Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant, and most of the queens were simply showgirls chosen for their radiant (ha!) looks. Each of the queens came about in an only loosely related manner: atomic-themed, usually of the mushroom cloud variety, costumes.

1. Miss Atomic Bomb

Miss Atomic Bomb is the most familiar and famous of the atomic queens, and it seems the only one crowned specifically as a marketing device for atomic testing. Apparently Don English, a Las Vegas News Bureau photographer, was amusing himself during a delay in a photo-shoot and created an atomic bomb-shaped appliqué that was attached to a beautiful girl’s swimsuit, and she was photographed as Miss Atomic Bomb (above). This beautiful girl was a Copa Girl, Miss Lee Merlin, who has entered history with her iconic photograph splashed in places of all sorts (including the latest The Killers album, Miss Atomic Bomb) for nearly 60 years.

2. Miss Atomic Blast

El Rancho Vegas held one of the earliest atomic blast picnics in 1952. Their picnic had an accompanying beauty pageant, which was won by Candyce King, a showgirl at the Last Frontier Hotel. King apparently donned an atomic bomb style hairdo that required a toilet paper roll and two cans of hairspray for support.

In addition to the normal beauty queen trappings, King was presented with a ten pound bag of mushrooms (because you know, mushroom cloud) by the Pennsylvania Mushroom Growers Association. King, as Miss Atomic Blast, had the honor of lighting the Stardust’s iconic mushroom-cloud-meets-falling-atomic-stars sign for the first time.

3. Miss Cue

Operation Cue took place at the Nevada Test Site in 1955. This series of tests was designed to test how well suburbia and all its trappings survived an atomic bomb blast. This was a large, intricate series of tests, and weather was unpredictable. After a series of delays, the operation came to be known as “Operation Mis-Cue.”

During one of the delays, military personnel headed into Las Vegas to pass the time. Six soldiers apparently crowned a Copa Girl named Linda Lawson as Miss Cue using a tiara constructed in the shape of a mushroom cloud, and supposedly made by the servicemen from wire and cotton bunting. The Sands went on to use photographs from this event as atomic publicity shots.

4. Miss A-Bomb

In 1953, the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce chose “Atomic City” as the theme of the annual parade and beauty pageant. Paula Harris won the pageant and rode on the chamber of commerce’s float, which bore a sign likening the city’s modernity to that of the A-Bomb. Harris quickly became known as Miss A-Bomb.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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