CLOSE
Original image

The Brutal Ladies Behind Some of History's Biggest Bullies

Original image

THE WHITE-BONED DEMON: MAO'S MAIN SQUEEZE Jiang Qing, better known as Madame Mao, was Communist China's answer to Lady Macbeth. A beautiful and ambitious actress, she seduced Mao Zedong when his first wife fell ill. Then, as the leader of the notorious Gang of Four (the political group, not the band), Madame Mao helped spearhead the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966, during which all Chinese schools were shut down, intellectuals were beaten or murdered, and anyone expressing "bourgeois" attitudes was eliminated. More moderate elements of the government plotted against her, and she became known as the "White-Boned Demon." After Mao died, her enemies arrested her and the other three Gang members. Her death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, but she took her own life when she was on release for medical reasons in 1991.

catphoto.jpg

POL POT-STICKER: KHIEU PONNARY You don't get to be the wife of a mass-murdering Cambodian dictator by acting like a timid homemaker. Khieu Ponnary was a revolutionary Communist firebrand for decades in Cambodia before her husband's Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. As Party Secretary of Khampong Thom province, she oversaw the brutal enforcement of party policies that led to countless executions. But like any great tyrant, she began showing signs of insanity. Pol Pot left her for a much younger woman (don't they always?) in 1979, and she spent the remaining years of her life in the care of family members and various mental institutions. She passed away in 2003.

113152.jpg

LADY MACBETH: BEHIND THE STORY (CA. 1007-1060 C.E.) Don't believe the hype. The real Lady Macbeth (the wife of Macbeth, an 11th-century Scottish king) was nothing like the power-hungry she-devil that Shakespeare made her out to be. But it's not all Will's fault. You can blame that on James I, the king of England and Scotland and a friend of the Bard's. In the play, Macbeth is the villain who kills rival king Duncan, but it was really Duncan who should have played the bad guy. By all historical accounts, Duncan was not only an awful king, but also a real jerk. Being a descendent of Duncan, however, James I wanted to preserve the image of his lineage, so he "encouraged" Shakespeare to make Macbeth the villain. If that weren't enough, he also suggested that Will make Lady Macbeth equally evil by depicting her as the scheming mastermind behind Duncan's death. Why? It was just James' way of saying "screw thee" to his wife, Anne of Denmark, with whom he had long been unhappy.

**************************
FAMILY TIES (That Really Bind)
Spending time with family can feel like torture, especially if you've got a tyrant for a dad.

StarWarsV01.jpg
SAVE THE MUSIC Sometimes a son deserves a slap on the wrist. Saddam Hussein once placed his boy, Uday, in solitary confinement after he'd beaten someone to death for (you guessed it) playing music too loudly. Of course, this wasn't the only time Uday made a murderous mistake. He also "accidentally" took Saddam's valet's life during a late night brawl. The furious Saddam first sentenced his son to death, but later decided instead to exile him to Switzerland for a year after Jordan's King Hussein calmed him down.
THIS BEEF IS MAKING ME THIRSTY Placed terrifyingly close to the cliff's edge in Wick, Scotland, Girnigoe Castle is definitely worth the visit. While it's mainly in ruins today, it still showcases a secret chamber and dungeon, where the 4th Earl of Caithness kept his son imprisoned. And just how strong was this father's love? Clearly, not very. The Earl kept his heir apparent on a strict diet of salted beef, so he'd die mad with thirst.
BAD SEEDS AND THE FAMILY TREE While it's common for tyrants to imprison activists (and their immediate relatives) for being critical of the regime, North Korea's Kim Jong-Il takes it a few steps further—three generations further to be exact. According to Kim, it's important to imprison a dissident's next three generations in order to root out any bad blood or seeds of dissent.

More bully-licious factoids flow from the pen of Christopher A. Smith in mental_floss volume 3, issue 4.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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