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The Lion of Gripsholm Castle

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Swedish blogger Ulrika Good posted a story about a king and his lion that captured the internet, and turned a Swedish meme into an international sensation. She later put up an English version to replace the rough Google translation many were using. King Frederik I of Sweden was given gifts from the Bey  of Algiers in 1731. These included a lion, another wildcat, three hyenas, and a freed slave who became the animals' keeper. The creatures lived out their lives at Djurgården, the Royal Game Park.

Quite a few years after the lion died, some of its remains were sent to a taxidermist to be mounted. All that was left was the pelt and some bones. The taxidermist was not at all familiar with this animal called a lion. So he did the best he could with what he had. There's always the possibility that alcohol was involved.

The Warner Brothers School of Taxidermy did not exist in the 1700s, but many have pointed out how the lion's face resembles a cartoon. Good compared it with the dog Dug from the Pixar movie Up! Others thought it resembled Snagglepuss.

King Frederik's lion is on display to this day at Gripsholm Castle, a former royal residence and now a museum in Mariefred, Södermanland, Sweden. Some have speculated that the taxidermist may have used heraldic lion images as a guide, like the carved lion at Gripsholm Castle shown here. That would at least explain the tongue. Image by Flickr user Groundhopping Merseburg.

Good also pointed us to the lion's Facebook fan page, where you'll find a wonderful collection of tribute images. The lion of Gripsholm Castle has found a home anywhere lions exist in pop culture.

He fits right in with the cast of The Wizard of Oz in this image by by Emelie Bäckström.

Our lion stars as Aslan in this poster for the movie Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Viktor Jungsand.

Our movie star has also appeared as Christian the Lion. Poster alteration by Dan Abrahamson.

Dan Abrahamson was also responsible for the fan page's profile pic, featuring the lion as Simba from The Lion King.

There are more references to Simba. Although he is a lion, he may have learned his facial expression from a hyena. Image by Vanitas Vanitatum.

Leo the MGM lion has been replaced in this new production card by Helena Lehmus.

This lion was there, along with what looks like his relatives, with Daniel in the lion's den. This image is from Vanitas Vanitatum. But these are only the images in which you would expect a lion to be. Others have the lion of Gripsholm Castle taking the place of various celebrities and figures from history, and set into various other ridiculous scenarios.

There are more images in a Fark thread about the lion, such as this portrait with Siegfried and Roy.

And so this Swedish meme is launched into the English-speaking world. If you ever find yourself in Sweden with time on your hands, you can still see the lion at Gripsholm Castle which is open most afternoons. However, photography is not allowed.

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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]