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Served Cold: 5 Scorned Women Get Their Revenge

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Who shot J. R.? A scorned woman. Who gave Mr. Bobbitt a belated bris? A scorned woman. Who bested Buttafuoco? You guessed it. Those guys could have picked up a thing or two from these poor saps, who learned not to upset the fairer sex the hard way.

1. "Mrs. Jack Johnson"

Black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson was known for two things: (1) his conquests in the ring and (2) his conquests of the fairer sex. One of his favorites of the latter was Belle Schreiber, a prostitute at Chicago's glitzy Everleigh brothel. And though the Everleigh was for whites only, Johnson knew how to pull a few strings. In truth, Belle was only one of five white Everleigh girls Johnson saw, but when he married not one but two white women, Belle was crushed. Her high-class career ruined by her widely publicized affair with Johnson, Schreiber was broke and strung out on absinthe and drugs. Agreeing to testify for the government in their prosecution of Johnson for violating the 1910 Mann Act (which outlawed taking a woman across state lines for the "purpose of prostitution or debauchery") Belle's testimony got him a year in prison and seven years of exile in Canada. She also got her way: The stint put an end to Johnson, ruining his stellar boxing career.

2. Boudicca, One Bad British Babe

Picture 183.pngIn the year 60 CE, the Romans were busy bringing Britain under their heel. Since anyone who resisted was crushed, it's no wonder that Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe in southeast Britain, decided  to cooperate and offered to share her realm with Roman emperor Nero. Instead, Nero had a governor declare the region a slave province, and took Boudicca into custody (did Nero ever do anything right?). She was then flogged publicly while her two daughters were raped by Roman soldiers. Not a particularly clever move. In response, Boudicca raised an army, marched on the Roman city of Colchester, and burned it with thousands of Roman colonists trapped inside. Her army grew until it became unwieldy, and was eventually defeated by a disciplined Roman army. Defiant to the end, Boudicca killed herself on the battlefield rather than surrender.

3. Perfect for the Part of Tyrant: Lady Mao

Picture 143.pngBefore the Communists took power under Mao Zedong, China had a thriving film industry centered in Shanghai. There, as in Hollywood, thousands of young actresses flocked to the city hoping to become stars. One did become a star, but not in the way she'd originally intended. Her stage name was Lan Ping ("Blue Apple"), and as an actress she never got the big roles. Frustrated by her career and increasingly resentful of the system, Ms. Apple fell in love with and married a young revolutionary named Mao. Of course, her demeanor was to change quickly. As Lady Mao, she became the head of the notorious Gang of Four, who presided over their own purge of "unacceptable" elements. This reign of terror, ironically called the Cultural Revolution, is one of the most terrifying and chaotic periods in China's history, where freedom of thought and diverse opinions were effectively outlawed. As a former actress, Lady Mao put herself in charge of the film industry, and banned films that she felt did not exemplify good Communist values— and any film directed by someone who'd passed her over. Many were executed for their so-called crimes, and her ruthlessness earned her a nickname: "the White-Boned Demon."

4. Rhymes with "Odious"

Picture 162.pngSalome gets a lot of misdirected criticism for the death of John the Baptist, but the real villain of the story was her mother, Herodias. The Roman wife of Herod Philip, Herodias had come to Palestine with her beautiful daughter, Salome, and married her husband's brother, Herod Antipas. John the Baptist looked none too kindly on this royal scandal and made no secret of his disdain for the arrangement. In an effort to appease his new wife's anger, Herod reluctantly had John imprisoned. You probably know the rest: Herod threw himself a birthday bash, and Salome danced the oh-so-sexy Dance of the Seven Veils. Delighted, drunk, and probably more than a little lecherous, Herod granted her anything she desired. When she asked her mom what she should ask for, Herodias wasted no time in punishing her least favorite scandalmonger, the poor, locusteating, camel-hair-wearing John the Baptist. She instructed Salome to ask for John's head on a platter, and Herod reluctantly complied. Even worse, in the historian St. Bede's version of the story, Herodias stabbed poor John's tongue repeatedly with a dagger.

5. Cochiti Caught Cheatin'

Picture 174.pngThe Cochiti tribe are one of the native Pueblo peoples of New Mexico. Their colorful folklore and mythology includes the tale of a woman who suspected her husband of having an affair with her younger sister. One day, while the husband and younger sister were out on a rabbit hunt together, the wife looked into a bowl of clear water and saw an image of her husband and sister, umm, "hunting rabbits" under a cedar tree. Repeatedly. She began to cry, sat in the middle of a basket, and sang to the spirits to be turned into a snake. When the two lovers returned, she bit them both, killing them. She then appealed to the tribe's medicine men to be taken somewhere to live in peace. They took her to Gaskunkutcinako ("the Girl's Cave"). This is how the Cochiti explain the tearlike marks on a certain species of snake. And perhaps why rabbit hunting isn't a good excuse for coming home late after work.

Ed. note: This list was excerpted from Forbidden Knowledge, available here.

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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]