CLOSE
Original image

11 Monarchs Who Went Insane

Original image

With election season in full swing, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and be glad that neither candidate makes out with corpses or thinks they have bones made of glass. Whether they were born with mental illness or slowly descended into lunacy as a result of leading tragic lives, these 11 rulers definitely make both of our candidates look better.

1. Queen Maria I of Portugal. Queen Maria exhibited some eyebrow-raising behavior prior to her husband/uncle’s death in 1786, but it was that sad event that really set her on the road to madness. When her eldest son and only daughter followed soon after, Maria’s already fragile mental state took a nose dive. The religious fanatic became convinced she was going to hell and reported visions of her deceased father’s blackened corpse being tortured by demons. Visitors to her apartments would complain that they were tired of her constant screaming and wailing. According to some reports, she also became rather fond of wearing children’s clothing.


2. Charles VI of France. Charles had many manic episodes, including one in 1392 where he slaughtered four of his own men after being startled when a page dropped a lance. After the massacre, Charles fell into a comatose state for two days and had to be carried home on a cart. But the most interesting delusion King Charles had was that his bones were made of glass. To prevent himself from shattering, the king had iron rods sewn into his clothes.

3. Otto of Bavaria. Otto was brought in to replace his insane brother, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. No one was banking on the fact that Otto was actually in worse mental shape than his sibling. The New York Times reported on November 5, 1913, that Otto was replaced after being found in a “pathetic” condition: “He stammered some inarticulate words. When [members of the delegation] withdrew from the room they heard a great crash, and on going to see what had caused it they found that Otto had dashed to the floor a tea tray, which had been set for the Deputies, and had smashed all the costly porcelain.”

Recent theories state that both of the brothers were in perfect mental health; the “insane” behavior was completely fabricated to make it easy to overthrow them.

4. Vlad the Impaler. Anyone who tortured people to the extent and numbers that Vlad of Walachia did had to be insane as well as cruel. His favorite form of torture, impalement, wasn’t just used as capital punishment; he took pleasure in it to the point of complete and total obsession. When Vlad and his evils were finally brought to an end via house arrest in Hungary, he obsessively continued to torture and impale any living thing that had the misfortune to cross his path - birds, rats, mice.

5. Juana of Castile. Although Juana’s marriage was arranged by her famous parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, she fell completely and totally in love with her husband, Philip the Handsome (you be the judge) of Austria. Juana was so in love, in fact, that when Philip died of typhoid fever in 1506, Juana had his tomb reopened several times so she could gaze at her husband’s face, which surely was no longer quite as handsome as it once had been. When she had to flee town to escape the plague, she demanded to take Philip with her and had the tomb opened once again to make sure he was still inside. He was still there, and presumably still decaying, but that didn’t stop Juana from kissing and caressing the corpse.

6. Erik XIV of Sweden. King Erik’s paranoia completely consumed his life and his sanity. It wasn’t unusual for people caught laughing, smiling or whispering within Erik’s earshot to be sentenced to death for treason. He had an entire family imprisoned in his castle and later murdered simply because he believed they were too influential. After the executions, King Erik wandered outside to the woods and disappeared for three days. He believed himself to be his own brother for a period of time, and in 1568, that brother really did take over the throne after advisors deemed Erik too compromised to wear the crown. Though Erik took his paranoia to the extreme, he may have been justified: when he met his end in 1577, it was the result of poisoned pea soup.


7. Fyodor I of Russia, AKA Fyodor the Bellringer. Fyodor, son of Ivan the Terrible, wasn’t thrilled about ruling and left most of it up to his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov. Known for his “vacant gaze,” Fyodor’s undoing seems to have happened when his only daughter died at the age of two. He took to wandering up and down Russia, obsessed with ringing all of the church bells in the land.

8. Princess Alexandra Amalie of Bavaria. By all accounts, Alexandra of Bavaria was a lovely, charming princess who became convinced that when she was a child, she had swallowed an all-glass piano. It's said she also had an obsession with cleanliness and would wear only white clothing. Too bad she never made it across the sea to meet Emily Dickinson - the two of them could have compared notes (through a door, of course) on how to get their whites whiter.

9. Mustafa I of Turkey. You can’t really blame this guy for being crazy: being locked in a room for 10 years at your own brother's behest might cause a screw or two to come a little bit loose. After his brother died, Mustafa was released from his “golden cage,” but was sent back after just a few months when his brother’s son took the throne instead. When his nephew was assassinated just four years later in 1622, Mustafa was again dragged from the safety of his cage to have the crown plopped on his head. He was frequently found running through the palace, knocking on doors and screaming for his dead nephew to come back and rule Turkey again.

10. Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. Maria Eleonora was desperate to give her husband a son, but after a couple of miscarriages and stillbirths, she kind of lost it when the baby she finally delivered in 1626 was a girl, screaming, “Instead of a son, I am given a daughter, dark and ugly, with a great nose and black eyes. Take her from me, I will not have such a monster!”

She tried several times to kill baby Christina, “accidentally” dropping her or shoving her down the stairs. Though King Gustavus Adolphus was happy to have a daughter, he was killed in battle less than two years later. Maria Eleonora responded with hysterical grieving that included keeping her husband's body above ground for 18 months so she could periodically touch it. Additionally, she made Christina sleep under a golden casket that contained her father’s heart.

Miraculously, Christina grew up to be a completely functioning woman and queen.

11. Ferdinand I of Austria. The product of inbreeding - his parents were double first cousins - Ferdinand was epileptic, encephalitic, rarely talked and had problems doing simple tasks. As Emperor, it's been alleged that the only words he uttered were, “I am the Emperor, and I want dumplings.” However, Ferdinand did keep a perfectly coherent diary, suggesting that he wasn’t crazy at all, just a guy with the misfortune to be born to a family obsessed with keeping the bloodline "pure."

For more stories like these, check out Mad Kings & Queens: History's Most Famous Raving Royals.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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!

Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES