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9 Excessive Weddings To Which We Weren't Invited

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There's lots to consider when planning a wedding: dresses, cakes, bands, halls...all of which can add up to a hefty bill for the parents of the bride (or, in some cultures, the groom). But perhaps those bellyaching about the substantial hit their bank account is about to take should pause to consider some of history's most outrageously lavish weddings. Suddenly dropping a few grand on a one-wear gown doesn't seem so bad, does it?

1. Attila the Hun and Ildico (453 CE)

Attila the Hun, perennial barbarian bad boy, was apparently also a perennial playboy. Leader of the Huns, Attila somehow found time to marry 12 women and father an unknown number of children. Never able to quite get enough, Attila still might have wanted to hold off on the last wife. On his last wedding night, in 453 CE, the royalty of every nation under Hun dominion, from the Rhine to the Volga, were in attendance, and thousands of gallons of booze and whole herds of sheep were brought in to slake their appetites. No ordinary nuptials, the drinking and feasting were to last for days, but on the morning after taking his 16-year-old bride to bed, the 50-something warlord was found dead. Whether his death was caused by poison, overdrinking, or just too much fun in the sack, the world will probably never know.

2. Margaret of York and Charles the Bold (1468)

Despite the protests of France's Louis XI, who was fearful of an alliance between the English and the Burgundians, Margaret of York was engaged to Charles the Bold, aka the duke of Burgundy. And in spite of the king's objection, the crazy cats decided to go forth with said ceremony and party like it was 1469. Extravagant even by the standards of European royal weddings, the blessed event was accompanied by a tournament in which the most famous knights in Europe bludgeoned one another for days. And Margaret's crown, covered in pearls and diamonds, was so valuable that it's now on display in the treasury of Aachen Cathedral. Of course, the pre-ceremony celebrations were equally grand. The nuptials themselves were preceded by parades through the streets of Bruges, a pageant reenacted every year during (coincidentally enough) the tourist season. Sadly, Margaret's subsequent life was a little less like a fairy tale: she lived to see the death of her husband in battle (1477) against the French and the overthrow of both Burgundy as an independent duchy (1482) and of her own family across the Channel (1485).

3. Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly (1956)

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Billed as "the wedding of the century," the union between the prince of Monaco (whose family is actually descended from Genoese pirates) and the Hollywood star was the talk of the civilized world for much of the mid-1950s. Rainier gave his bride a 10-carat diamond ring, and his subjects gave their new princess diamond earrings and a necklace to match and, for no particular reason, a Rolls-Royce. Of grace-kelly-stamp.jpgcourse, the gown was no joke, either, as Grace's dress was designed by an Oscar winner, Helen Rose. The couple had two wedding ceremonies "“ a private civil ceremony in the Riviera principality's throne room and a public religious ceremony in Monaco Cathedral. Over 600 of the world's rich and famous attended the reception, including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Ava Gardner. Tragically, Princess Grace was killed in 1982 in a car accident. Interestingly, commemorative U.S. postage stamps were issued in her honor, but they gave her name only as "Grace Kelly." Why? Because U.S. law bans the placement of foreign monarchs on its postage stamps.

4. Muhammad and Salama of Dubai (1981)

Things can be rough when you're constantly trying to "keep up with the Joneses," or the Hamids, as the case may be. Arab weddings are often such bank-breakers that Arab economists frequently bemoan the size and expense that have become culturally expected. But that didn't stop Rashid bin Sayid al-Maktoum, sheikh of Dubai, in planning his son Muhammad's 1981 wedding to Princess Salama. Lasting a mere seven days (seven!), the wedding was held in a stadium built expressly to host the festivities. Twenty thousand guests attended, and the bill came in at just over $44 million.

5. The Mittal Affair (2004)

mittal.jpgIn possibly the most luxurious wedding in history, Vanisha Mittal, daughter of Anglo-Indian steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal, married Amit Bhatia, an investment banker who literally cashed in. The wedding, held in June 2004 in a chateau in France, lasted six days and was reported to have cost over $90 million (yes, that's U.S. dollars). The guest roster included some of Bollywood's brightest stars and some of Europe's deepest pockets. Among the expenditures: $520,000 for a performance by pop diva Kylie Minogue, who performed for a half hour. That's almost $300 per second.

[Those first five were excerpted from our book, mental_floss presents: Forbidden Knowledge.]

Four More Elaborate Weddings We Did Not Attend

dianawedding.jpgPrince Charles & Diana Spencer: On July 29, 1981, over 600,000 people packed the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the new royal couple. According to the BBC, "The bride's nerves showed briefly when she mixed up the Prince's names "“ calling him Philip Charles Arthur George, rather than Charles Philip. Charles, 32, in the full dress uniform of a naval commander, slightly muddled his vows too, referring to "thy goods" rather than "my worldly goods." We should forgive their nervousness. The wedding was seen by over 750 million viewers worldwide, making it the most-watched program in history.

• Star Jones & Al Reynolds. In 2004, the former View co-host set (unofficial) records in both the shameless wedding product placement and bridezilla categories. Jones shilled for several companies in exchange for free stuff, including invitations, bridesmaids' gowns and tuxedos. Continental was the official wedding of the Jones-Reynolds nuptials. After the ceremony, Star scolded her co-hosts on air: "I could not believe that my cohost [Joy Behar], not only did she bring a camera, but had the audacity to pull it out to take my picture."

• Paul McCartney & Heather Mills. In 2002, the former Beatle married model-turned-activist Heather Mills in Monaghan, Ireland. The ceremony featured the song "Heather," written by McCartney for his new bride. The Indian-themed party featured dancers in authentic Indian dress, fireworks and a vegetarian feast. The estimated cost was $3 million. Far more liza.jpgexpensive: not signing a pre-nup beforehand.

• Liza Minnelli & David Gest. Forbes rated this couple's $3.5 million bash the most expensive celebrity wedding. The ceremony featured Best Man Michael Jackson, Maid of Honor Elizabeth Taylor, and a performance by Tony Bennett. From Forbes: "Guests feasted on a 12-tier wedding cake and received personalized favors encased in satin candy boxes embossed 'Liza and David 4 Ever.' (The pair divorced the next year.)"

We also didn't attend any of the elaborate White House weddings, famous TV weddings, memorable movie weddings or the "November Rain" ceremony, which we still don't understand. (It's been 15 years -- has anyone figured out what that video means yet?) But as we mentioned last Wednesday, this is the wedding we most regret missing.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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