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Feel Art Again: "Amor Vincit Omnia"

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In December, when the "Feel Art Again" feature on El Greco's "A Lady in a Fur Wrap" was re-posted, reader Miss Nae requested a post on Caravaggio. So, today we'll take a look at one of Caravaggio's secular paintings from 1602, "Amor Vincit Omnia" (Latin for "Love Conquers All").

1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was actually born in Milan, and only moved to Caravaggio in 1576, when the artist was 5 years old, because a plague was ravaging Milan. If it hadn't been for that plague, we would probably know Caravaggio by a different name today.

2. In the painting, the Roman god Cupid is portrayed trampling symbols of all human activities (music, literature, war, astronomy, etc.), illustrating a line from Virgil's Eclogues: "Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori." (In English, "Love conquers all; let us all yield to love.") Some people believe the painting may have also been referring to Vincenzo Giustiniani, who commissioned it. The musical manuscript on the floor bears a "V," and Giustiniani was accomplished in the areas of activity represented. In that case, the painting would also mean, "Vincenzo conquers all."

3. Caravaggio was quite the bad boy of the late-16th, early-17th century art world. He was well-known for his brawls, which resulted in several pages of police records and transcripts of trial proceedings. In 1606, he killed Ranuccio Tomassoni and was outlawed from Rome; he fled to Naples. He later received patronage and protection from the Knights of Malta, but it was short-lived. Apparently, he was in a fight in 1608 that resulted in a battered door and a seriously wounded knight. He was arrested in August and declared a "foul and rotten member" of the Knights of Malta.

4. "Amor Vincit Omnia" was the cause of a rivalry between Caravaggio and Giovanni Baglione. Vincenzo Giustiniani's brother, Cardinal Benedetto Giustiniani, commissioned a painting from Baglione not long after "Amor Vincit Omnia" was completed. Baglione's piece, "Divine and Profane Love" was believed to be of a similar style and theme as Caravaggio's piece. Caravaggio accused Baglione of plagiarism. After taunting from a friend of Caravaggio, Baglione painted a second version, using Caravaggio's face as the face of the devil. The feud continued until Caravaggio's death, after which the still perturbed Baglione wrote the first biography of Caravaggio.

5. Though "Amor Vincit Omnia" may not rank as one of the world's most famous paintings, it was quite popular in the early 17th century, inspiring three madrigals and a Latin epigram.

6. The specifics of Caravaggio's death are not very clear. While Caravaggio living in Naples, sometime between 1608 and 1610, Caravaggio the "famous artist" was reported dead. He was not dead, though an attempt had been made on his life, leaving his face seriously disfigured. On July 28, 1610, an anonymous avviso, or announcement, from Rome reported Caravaggio's death; a few days later, another avviso reported that he died of fever. However, his body was never found. A friend of Caravaggio later listed his death as July 18, which has been supported by recent research.

A larger version of the work can is available here.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]