The Quick 10: The 10 Oldest, Still-Functioning Universities in the World

My alma mater, Iowa State University, was founded in 1858... so that puts it waaaay out of the running for this list. In fact, all U.S. universities are nowhere near the top 10 (I know, go figure).

The 10 Oldest, Still-Functioning Universities in the World

1. Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences - Khozettan, Iran. It was founded around 200 B.C. by Shapur I, the Sassanian king.
2. The University of Al-Karaouine - Fes, Morocco. Founded in 859, the Guinness Book of World Records has recognized it as the world's oldest continuously operating, degree-granting university. (The Ahvaz Jundishapur University has not been continuously-operating)
3. Al-azhar University - Cairo, Egypt. It opened its doors in 975.
4. University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy. The first university in the western world was founded in 1088.
5. The University of Paris - Paris, France. An exact date is uncertain, but it was sometime around 1150. Teaching was suspended in 1229 and the university split into 13 different universities in 1970.

6. University of Oxford "“ Oxford, England. An exact date the actual university was founded is unknown, but it is known that teaching has existed since 1096. Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
7. University of Modena and Reggio Emilia "“ Modena, Italy. It was founded in 1175 but has faded in and out "“ in 1338 the medieval university was replaced by three "public lectureships" but no degrees were awarded. The university was reestablished in the early 1680s.
8. University of Cambridge "“ Cambridge, England. It is, as you might suspect, the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. It was founded in 1209.
9. University of Salamanca "“ Salamanca, Spain. Founded in 1218, this is actually the second-oldest university in Spain. The oldest, Palencia, is no longer in existence. When Christopher Columbus was trying to gain Royal support for finding a western route to the Indies, he presented his case to geographers at this very university.
10. University of Montpellier "“ Montpellier, France. It's been around since 1220 but closed in 1793 because of the French Revolution. It opened again under the Imperial University of France in 1808.

In case you're curious, the oldest college in the U.S. is much debated, depending on your definitions.

The College of William & Mary claims to be the first college to become a university.
Harvard says it is the "oldest institution of higher education in the United States".
Johns Hopkins says it's the "first research university in the United States".
The University of Pennsylvania claims that they are "America's First University" and Georgetown says that Jesuit teaching began in 1634, which would make it the oldest. The formal campus wasn't built until 1788, however.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]