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The Quick 10: Nine Victims of King Tut's Curse (and one who should have been)

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If you have any connections to Egyptology or mummies at all (work in a museum? Have an archaeologist ancestor?), be careful on Sunday. Sunday is the anniversary of the day King Tutankhamen's tomb was opened, unleashing a powerful curse upon all who dared disturb his eternal slumber.

I mean, if you believe in stuff like that. Here are nine people who might make you believe, and one who should have been a direct recipient of Tut's wrath but got off with nary a scratch. Now, like any good urban legend, the tale of Tut's curse has expanded to epic proportions over the years. Some of these are probably exaggerated versions of what really happened"¦ but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

tut1. Lord Carnarvon, the man who financed the excavation of King Tut's tomb, was the first to succumb to the supposed curse. He accidentally tore a mosquito bite open while shaving and ended up dying of blood poisoning shortly thereafter. This occurred a few months after the tomb was opened and a mere six weeks after the press started reporting on the "Mummy's Curse" that was thought to afflict anyone associated with disturbing the mummy. Legend has it that when he died, all of the lights in the house mysteriously went out.
2. Howard Carter, who discovered the existence of the tomb, gave a paperweight to a friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, as a gift. The paperweight, appropriately (or inappropriately, I suppose) consisted of a mummified hand wearing a bracelet that was supposedly inscribed with "Cursed be he who moves my body." I'm sure "and severs my hand to use it as a trinket" was implied. Ingham house burned to the ground not long after receiving the gift, and when he tried to rebuilt, it was hit with a flood.

3. George Jay Gould was a wealthy financier who visited the tomb of Tutankhamen"¦ and fell sick almost immediately afterward. He never really recovered and died of a high fever a few months later.

4. It's said that Lord Carnarvon's brother, Audrey Herbert, suffered from King Tut's curse merely by being related to the financier. Herbert, having had no such problems before, became totally blind. It was mistakenly believed that his rotten, infected teeth were somehow interfering with his vision, and had every single tooth pulled from his head in an effort to regain his sight. Needless to say, it didn't work. He did, however, die of blood poisoning as a result of the surgery, just five months after the death of his cursed brother.

tomb5. Hugh Evelyn-White was so terrified of the curse that he killed himself before Tutankhamen could. Supposedly "“ I'll tell you that I couldn't find a super credible source to back this one up, so it's possible that the story of his death has been embellished over the years. Evelyn-White was an archaeologist who helped during excavation. After seeing death sweep over his fellow crew members in 1923, Evelyn-White wrote "I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear," and hanged himself. One account says he wrote this in his own blood, but take it with a grain of salt.

6. American Egyptologist Aaron Ember was friends with many of the people who were present when the tomb was opened, including Lord Carnarvon. Ember died in 1926, when his house burned down "“ he could have exited safely, but was trying to save a book he had been working on: The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Spooky.

7. Richard Bethell, who was Howard Carter's secretary and the first person behind Carter to enter the tomb, died in 1929. Seven years later seems like a stretch to include in the curse, but given that he apparently died of respiratory failure at the young age of 35 does make you wonder"¦

8. Proving that you didn't have to be one of the excavators or financers to fall victim to the curse, Archibald Douglas Reed merely X-rayed Tut before he ended up in the Museum of Cairo. He got sick the next day and was dead three days later.

9. Another famous Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted, was working with Carter when the tomb was opened. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly returned home to find that his pet canary had been eaten by a cobra"¦ and the cobra was still occupying the cage. Since the cobra is a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy "“ one that kings wore on their heads to represent protection "“ this was a pretty ominous sign. Breasted himself didn't die until 1935, although it was immediately following a trip to Egypt.

carter10. Howard Carter himself? Perfectly fine. Never had a mysterious, inexplicable illness and his house never fell victim to any natural disasters. He died of cancer at the age of 64. If you ask me, I have a theory about this. Howard Carter loved archaeology and Egypt and would have been deeply respectful of his subjects. His tombstone even says, "May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness." So, if the curse is indeed true, I hypothesize that those who died did or said something to insult the memory of the mummy.

What do you think "“ is the curse something to be feared, or would you totally dismiss it if you had the opportunity to check out the tomb? Share your opinions in the comments. And have a good weekend!

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]