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VIII Random Facts About Henry VIII

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I am normally not one for historical fiction, but a couple of years ago I read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much, in fact, that I immediately went and bought the rest of the series. Now the movie version with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman is coming out and I'm going to have to check that out to see if it measures up to the book.

The whole thing really roused my interest in the Tudors (The Tudors the TV series is currently in my Netflix queue) and I spent an embarrassingly large amount of time on Wikipedia reading about them. Prior to the books, all I really knew about Henry VIII is that he got married to the widow next door and she'd been married seven times before (I kid, I kid).

In honor of the recent anniversary of his death (January 28, 1547), I give you eight random facts about Henry VIII.

1. Henry was never supposed to be King.

It was always intended that Henry's older brother Arthur would take over from their father as the King of England. While Henry was merely the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Earl Marshal of England, Arthur held the Prince of Wales title. Arthur died rather unexpectedly at the age of 15, not long after getting married to Catherine of Aragon from Spain. Thus began Henry's rein "“ he pretty much just stepped in and picked up where Arthur left off, including Catherine. Prior to his brother's death, it was assumed that Henry would have a prosperous career with the Church. Pretty funny, considering how cavalierly he played with the Church's rules to suit his marriages and divorces later in life.

2. He apparently compared his fourth wife to a horse.

anne of cleves

Fast forward through Henry's annulment with Catherine, the beheading of Anne Boleyn, and the death of Jane Seymour and we have wife #4, Anne of Cleves. His motives for marrying her were purely political "“ she was the sister of the Duke of Cleves, who was Protestant. The Duke was an important friend to have in case the Roman Catholics decided to invade England, and so the marriage was arranged. The problem? The picture that Henry based a large part of his decision on was apparently more than a little flattering. When he met her in person just prior to their marriage, he apparently compared her to a horse. They got married anyway, and by all accounts it was pretty miserable. The marriage was annulled and she received the title of "The King's Sister," which totally baffles me. If anyone can explain this to me, please do.

3. He had an affair with Anne Boleyn's sister.

mary
One of the plots in The Other Boleyn Girl is about Henry having an affair with Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary. This really happened when Mary served as Catherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting for ten years. Her first two children are rumored to be Henry's, but this was never proven. After her first husband died, Mary wed a commoner with no social status and was thus disowned by Anne. She is the ancestor of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and Sarah, Duchess of York (among others).

4. He was a sickly fellow.

Henry's health problems were vast. Although he was athletic in his youth, a jousting mishap left him unable to exercise. As a result, his waistline climbed to 54 inches. He had severe migraines and suffered from terrible insomnia. It's speculated that he also suffered from gout, and eventually the jousting wound in his thigh became ulcerated (which may have actually helped to cause his death). Modern doctors suggest that Henry probably had type II diabetes.

5. Supposedly his last words were "Monks, monks, monks!"

This is also the name of a Houston-area law firm (well, almost: Monks, Monks, Monks & Hiran).

6. He was buried with his third wife.

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Henry was buried at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle with third wife Jane Seymour. He considered her his only "true" wife, since she was the only one of the six to bear him a son.

7. He could be haunting Hampton Court Palace.

ghost
In October 2003, security at the Palace checked their surveillance tapes to see why one of the fire doors kept opening. As they watched, a strange figure appeared in the doorway and closed the doors. The figure appears to be wearing period dress. If Hampton Court is haunted, it's with good reason: Jane Seymour died there after giving birth and fifth wife Catherine Howard was arrested there in 1542 for cheating on King Henry (which was treason at the time). When she found out she was being arrested, she fled down the long Gallery screaming for the King to save her.

8. He left his mark.

ship
Despite his many marriages and his rage issues, Henry left quite a legacy. He, Alfred the Great and Charles II are traditionally referred to as the founders of the Royal Navy. He invested quite heavily in shipmaking, including the Mary Rose, which he named after his sister (although some speculate he was trying to impress Mary Boleyn).

By the way, one of the ways to keep track of Henry's six wives and how they came to be separated from him is to use this little rhyme: Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived (even though they were technically annulments and not divorces).

What do you guys think? Fabulous leader or horrible tyrant? Both?

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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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