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How To: Win a Duel

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First: Get Embroiled in a Love Triangle
Lord Edward Bruce loved Venetia Stanley. So did Edward Sackville, Earl of Dorset. This being 1613, the disagreement quickly turned to impassioned slapping, which was, of course, an invitation to duel to the death.
Second: Evade The Wrath Of Your King
Besides commissioning a translation of the Bible, King James I of England is also well known for disliking the "barbaric" tradition of dueling. He had banned it from England, so Lord Bruce and the Earl of Dorset took their grudge match to Holland, traveling with only their personal doctors as witnesses.
Third: Die With Dignity
The duel turned out to be pretty evenly matched, with both men severely wounding the other. Finally, though, the Earl managed stab Bruce straight through twice. Pretty much done for, Bruce was left to his doctor while the Earl set about getting his own wounds treated. Which was when Bruce's doctor attacked. Of course, at the time, doctors were thought little better of than maids and Bruce couldn't bear to be avenged by someone so low on the social totem pole. From his deathbed, he demanded that the "rascal" doctor halt his attack and, thus, died in an honorable way.
Fourth: Survive, But End Up Kind Of Looking Like An Idiot
Victorious, the Earl of Dorset headed back to England to claim his lady love"¦Only to find out that, while he and Bruce had been busy paying attention to each other, Venetia Stanley had married somebody else entirely.

yhst-73063417915186_1930_58689781.gifOTHER NOTEWORTHY DUELS
1792—Lady Almeria Braddock vs. Mrs. Elphinstone
Place: London
Cause: An argument over Lady Braddock's correct age.

Late 1700s—Lord Richard Martin vs. More than 100 people
Place: Various locations throughout England and Ireland
Cause: Martin frequently took the law into his own hands to battle animal abusers. He was also instrumental in passing the first animal protection act through Parliament in 1822 and in founding the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, acts which earned him the hilarious nickname "Humanity Dick."

2002—Saddam Hussein vs. George W. Bush (proposed)
Place: A neutral location to be chosen by Kofi Annan, who would also serve as referee.
Cause: Prior to the invasion of Iraq, one creative Iraqi Vice President offered to solve the dispute between his country and the U.S. by arranging a duel between leaders Hussein and Bush. Surprisingly, no one took him up on his offer.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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