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The Quick 10: The Fashions of Queen Elizabeth I

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Many, many years ago today (451 years ago, to be exact), the world changed when Elizabeth I took the throne. She's been a popular subject in recent years with the Cate Blanchett Elizabeth movies and Philippa Gregory books, so you probably already know the basics"¦ what you may not know about is her fabulous couture collection. Here are a few facts about Elizabeth's passion for fashion.

elizabeth1. She was a notorious clotheshorse and had a wardrobe that would be the envy of any fashion-minded woman. It's estimated that she owned at least 2,000 pairs of gloves alone.
2. Elizabeth didn't wear makeup until a bout with smallpox in 1562 left her with a lot of facial scars. That's when she started to really cake it on. It wasn't like today's mineral makeup though "“ Elizabeth's makeup was actually deadly. She painted her face with white lead and vinegar, which poisoned her slowly over time.
3. Despite popular belief, dental care was very important to Elizabethans and they realized that hygiene was key to keeping their teeth. Even so, the means they had to keep their teeth clean were not so great. Even Elizabeth herself ended up having so many rotted teeth that her cheeks started to cave in from lack of support. To combat this and give the impression of robust health, she stuffed her cheeks with rags for public appearances.

4. Although she loved ornate dresses, Elizabeth shunned the jewels and embroidered silks in private and wore plain dressing gowns. She was reputed to wear the same one for days on end when she could.

5. She may have worn the first wristwatch to appear in England. One of the Queen's suitors (he was also a Queen's Favorite) presented her with a watch face that was enclosed in a bracelet. Previously, portable timepieces had been limited mostly to pocket watches.

6. Even Elizabeth knew the power of the LBD (that's little black dress). Although her closet contained dresses in all colors imaginable, her favorites were ones that were black and white. She felt that these colors best represented purity and virginity "“ she was, after all, known as the Virgin Queen. Although in her case, the "little" in "little black dress" hardly has a place "“ the trend at the time was to wear farthingales, hoop skirts and petticoats under a dress.

7. Despite her lavish wardrobe, Elizabeth actually didn't spend that much of her budget on clothes, even spending just a fifth of what some of her male successors spent. Many of her clothes were gifts, and she also had existing dresses constantly restyled to look different by cutting off sleeves or adding embellishments.

8. It wasn't uncommon for Elizabeth to pay her ladies in waiting with clothes from her wardrobe instead of with actual money.

9. It has been speculated that the Queen loved having so many rich clothes because she severely lacked them as a child. After Henry VIII declared that her mother, Anne Boleyn, was a witch and had her beheaded, Elizabeth was considered illegitimate and received pretty poor treatment. Her nanny had to write to the King and his staff to beg for some decent clothes for his daughter to wear, saying,

"beseeching you to be [a] good lord to my lady...that she may have some raiment for she hath neither gown, not kirtle nor sleeves, nor railes, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers nor biggins. All this her grace must have. I have driven off as long as I can, that be my troth I can drive it no longer. Beseeching you my lord that ye will see that her grace may have that [which] is needful for her."

10. Elizabeth was kind of like Lady Gaga. OK, I might be exaggerating a little, but what I mean is that she was a fashion trendsetter. Her fashions would be so outrageous in terms of volume, embellishment and extravagance that no one other than the Queen herself could possibly have pulled them off. Instead, the styles trickled down and became watered-down copies as it went through each level of society. Her ladies-in-waiting might have decent facsimiles of her styles, but by the time they reached the common folk, they were bare bones copies. It's sort of like seeing a crazy outfit on the runway at Fashion Week and then finding the more wearable, affordable version of it at Forever 21 three months later.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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