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The Quick 10: 10 Stories About the Real Dracula

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Happy Friday!! To celebrate the end of the week, today's Q10 will be part three of my sporadic Halloween series. Since you're mental_floss readers and lovers of all things knowledge, I'm sure you already know that there was a real Dracula. He probably wasn't a vampire and he definitely couldn't turn into a bat, but he did do some really horrible things. We'll discuss them, but first a little history: Vlad Tepes was the son of Vlad II Dracul. He became known as Vlad Dracula because the suffix tacked on there makes the surname mean "son of Dracul." He ruled Wallachia three times "“ 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. A lot of the horrible stories are hard to verify, because some of what we know about Vlad's cruelty is based on German stories "“ which, of course, would make him out to be a terrible man. As a counterpoint, most Romanian stories about Vlad portray him as heroic and one of the greatest leaders they've ever had.

Anyway, the terrible tales:

vlad1. Vlad Tepes first ruled in 1448 after his father was assassinated. His older brother was also horribly killed "“ blinded with hot pokers and then buried alive. Vlad Tepes was immediately put on the throne so Wallachia's political enemies wouldn't think the position was free for the taking, but Vlad was ruler pretty much in name only. After all, he was only 17 at the time.

2. In 1459-1460, he had an entire village of German settlers killed when a trade dispute erupted. The village was burned to the ground and every single resident was impaled or executed in some horrible manner "“ women and children included.

3. In 1462, he raided the southern banks of the Danube. He claimed to have killed "men and women, old and young"¦ 23.884 Turks and Bulgarians without counting those whom we burned alive in their homes or whose heads were not chopped off by our soldiers." Soldiers brought back some souvenirs of this raid for Vlad "“ sacks of heads, noses and ears. Vlad would then send those bits and pieces out to other rulers as warnings.

4. Let it be known that Vlad had a sense of humor "“ a dark, terrible sense of humor.

When some Turkish ambassadors refused to remove their caps in his presence, he asked why they would dishonor him like that. They replied that it was their custom to not remove the caps in public; only in the privacy of their homes. So Vlad helped them out by having their hats permanently nailed to their heads (that's one of the German stories, I believe).

5. We know Vlad liked to impale people, but he was particularly sadistic about it. Not that impaling someone could probably not be sadistic, but you know what I mean. Here's how he did it "“ if you just ate lunch, maybe go ahead and skip to #6. First, the victim would have a horse attached to each of his legs. I suppose for stability, but I'm not totally sure on that one. Wouldn't tying the victim to stakes or something have worked just as well? Anyway, then a seim-sharpened stake would be forced into the body from below "“ usually through the anus, with the desired end effect being the other end of the stake coming through the mouth. The stick couldn't be too sharp, though, because then the victim might die quickly, and what fun would that be for Vlad?

WOODCUT6. Another method was to impale the person through the abdomen or chest and then post them around the city as a warning to others. There is a memoir that exists that documents the "forest of the impaled", where Vlad would line the roads with tons of Turkish soldiers he had impaled. If that didn't intimidate the enemy, I don't know what would.

7. Here's more intimidation: sometimes Vlad would arrange the impaled people in a circle around the city that he was targeting. The taller the spear they were impaled on, the higher-ranking that person was.

8. According to the stories, when Vlad came to power the second time, he invited a lot of the nobles who were responsible for the cruel deaths of his brother and father to a huge, luxurious feast. Once there, he had the older nobles impaled. The younger nobles and their families were forced to march to the ruins of a castle in the mountains and forced them to rebuild it. The stories say the prisoners worked until their tattered clothes fell off, and then were forced to keep working in the nude. Once it was completed, Vlad used the Poenari Castle as one of his fortresses.

9. His first wife supposedly killed herself when that same castle was raided by the Turkish army in 1462. Vlad's own half-brother, Radu the Handsome, led the siege on the castle. When word got back that the Turkish army was getting close, Vlad's wife apparently threw herself out of the tower into the water below, saying that she "would rather have her body rot and be eaten by the fish of the ArgeÅŸ than be led into captivity by the Turks". That body of water, a tributary of the ArgeÅŸ, is called Raul Doamnei "“ the Lady's River (or the Princess's River).

10. It's generally thought that The Impaler finally met his end in a battle against the Ottoman Empire in December, 1476. But other stories abound, including several that have him being felled by his own men. One of the stories also says that when he was killed, the Turks cut his head off, preserved it in honey and had it sent to Istanbul. The sultan proudly displayed his trophy on "“ what else "“ a stake.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]