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The Quick 10: 10 Bizarre Deaths

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I stumbled upon this list of bizarre deaths and immediately thought, "Perfect mental_floss post." I think this subconsciously might be my reaction to Halloween displays going up in retail stores already "“ you might think it's too early, but I'd be happy if Halloween stuff was sold in stores year-round. Hopefully you guys are used to my morbid ways by now. Um. Happy Monday!

1. Aeschylus, a Greek playwright, supposedly met his making in 458 B.C. when an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock. He dropped a tortoise on the "rock" to try to kill it and break its shell open, but since the "rock" was actually Aeschylus' skull, it didn't really work out well. Except for the tortoise: legend has it that it walked away, unharmed.

tycho 2. It was long believed that astronomer Tycho Brahe died because he wouldn't get up to go to the loo. He was at a banquet in 1601 and had to pee something awful. But to get up and leave the banquet would have been unspeakably rude, so he, you know, held it. The theory is that it stretched his bladder beyond repair, he developed an infection and died 11 days later. However, these days, it looks like Tycho may have suffered from mercury poisoning. One school of thought thinks that his then-assistant, Johannes Kepler, intentionally poisoned him.

3. Speaking of faulty bladders, in 1862, baseball player Jim Creighton died when his bladder ruptured. Well, maybe. He was at bat and swung a little too hard, he gave himself some sort of internal injury and died a few days later. Many sources say it was his bladder; others say his appendix burst. He is largely regarded as baseball's first superstar.

4. If you visit the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, you'll hear the story of how Jasper Newton Daniel met his untimely demise.

It was blood poisoning, which isn't that unusual, until you hear how he got it: years earlier, he kicked a safe because he couldn't remember the combination. This resulted in a toe injury, which resulted in blood poisoning.

5. It's entirely possible that King Alexander of Greece is the only King to ever die from a monkey attack. Seriously. He was out walking his dog in the Royal Gardens when a monkeys descended upon them. He tried to defend his poor dog, but got bitten a couple of times in the process. Infection set in and the King died of sepsis later that month.

6. George Herbert died of "blood poisoning", but those in the know say he was the first victim of King Tut's curse. He was the once who financed the excavation, which he probably regretted when a seemingly harmless mosquito bite turned into a deadly infection in 1923.

isadora7. Famous dancer Isadora Duncan died because she loved accessories. Scarves, to be exact. As she was riding in a car, her scarf fluttered out and got wrapped up in the spokes of the tires. The scarf was wrapped around her so well that it wouldn't come loose and instead dragged her out of the car and strangled her.

8. Robert Williams was the first person to be killed by a robot (see, Flight of the Conchords know what they are talking about). Williams worked at Ford and was getting a part out of a storage bin when the arm of a robot performing the same function caught him in the head with enough force to kill him.

williams9. I'm sure Tennessee Williams would have written a much more poetic death for himself than what actually happened. He was at a hotel in New York when he put the cap to some eyedrops in his mouth, then leaned back to put the drops in his eye. This was something he did a lot, but this time, the cap slipped and he choked to death.

10. I suppose after the "unsinkable" Titanic sunk, we should have learned to never declare things definitively impossible. Garry Hoy would certainly know better, if he had survived his fall. In 1993, he hurled himself against a glass wall on the 24th story on his office building. He was at an after-hours party and was proving to the party patrons that the glass was "unbreakable." Except it wasn't.

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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]