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8 Scary Tale Castles

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When I posted 7 Fairy Tale Castles, there were quite a few castles that didn't make the cut. Some were just too frightening to think of as part of a children's princess-type story, but the legends behind them make great tales for telling around a campfire on a dark and spooky night.

1. Dalhousie

Dalhousie Castle was built in the 13th century on the banks of the Esk River in Scotland, not far from Edinburgh. The first resident was Simon of Ramsay, and the castle stayed with the same clan for almost 800 years until 1977. Legend has it that a Ramsay lord of the 16th century had a mistress named Lady Catherine. When his wife found out, she imprisoned Catherine in the castle and starved her to death. Her ghost is said to haunt Dalhousie Castle to this day, sometimes tapping guests on the shoulder. Dalhousie is now a luxury hotel and a popular spot for weddings. Ownership of the castle changed hands just a couple of months ago. Photograph by Flickr user John Ross.

2. Houska

Houska Castle is nicknamed The Gateway to Hell. Built in the 13th century in what is now the Czech Republic, it is said to have been constructed over a bottomless well that is a portal to hell, and therefore the structure was built to contain it instead of protecting residents from outside forces. The legend says:

When construction of the castle began, local prisoners who had been sentenced to death were invited to the site and offered a reprieve for being lowered down into the cave and then reporting there findings.

The first volunteer was lowered down, and after only a few seconds after disappearing into the darkness his screams were heard above. When unfortunate fellow was pulled to the surface his hair had gone white and he was still screaming. The prisoner was sent to an insane asylum where he died two days later from unknown causes.

The current owners have renovated the castle, and opened it to the public for the first time only in 1999. Houska Castle was the subject of the TV show Ghost Hunters International in 2009.

3. Leap

Offaly

Leap Castle is in County Offaly, Ireland. It was built by the violent O’Carroll clan in the early 1500s, and was the scene of numerous murders, often among family members. The victims are said to still walk the halls, and even move things around. Another legend says that the castle was built over a druid initiation site, and maintains the spiritual energy that caused it to be chosen for that purpose. The most common apparition at Leap Castle is called the Elemental, although who it is supposed to represent is still debated. Photograph by Flickr user ChiaLynn.

4. Predjama

Castillo de Predjama

Predjama Castle in Slovenia is built into the entrance of a cave system that runs through the mountain, making it a siege-proof fortress. It was first constructed in the 14th century, and expanded several times. Predjamski Castle has its own railway and concert hall! You can see panoramic photos of the castle interior and the cave under the castle. The cave beneath has three entrances, handy for exit in case of attack. There is reportedly a torture chamber inside the castle, and a deep pit with ancient murder victims at the bottom. Photograph by Flickr user Sergio Morchon.

5. Chillingham

Chillingham Castle

Chillingham Castle is in Northumberland, near the England-Scotland border. Originally built in the 12th century as a monastery, it became a military stronghold in the medieval battles between the two nations. The current owners claim that it is the most haunted castle in Britain, with sporadic appearances by the “blue boy,” Lady Mary Berkeley, and other ghosts. Photograph by Flickr user Jo Jordan.

6. Bran

This is Bran Castle near Brasov, in the Transylvania region of Romania. It has become famous as "Dracula's Castle," but historians don’t think the despot Vlad the Impaler ever actually lived there. According to some accounts, he spent a couple of days in the dungeon of Bran Castle as the guest of the Ottoman Empire. However, Bran Castle inspired Bram Stoker’s writings, and it was also used in some Dracula films. It's scary-lookingenough!

7. Poenari

Vlad Tepes actually lived at Poenari Citadel in the Wallachia region of Romania. High on the side of a mountain, it was an imposing military fortress. Poenari was abandoned in the 16th century. A landslide in 1888 brought down some of the walls. To see the ruins of Poenari Castle, you must climb 1,426 steps (or just click here). You can also see a speculation on what the fortress looked like at its peak. When you consider the thousands of people Vlad put to death here, the site becomes chilling. Photograph by Wikipedia member Beata Jankowska.

8. Huniazilor

Entrance

Hunyad Castle (Castelul Huniazilor) is in Hunedoara, Romania, a Transylvanian town. It was built by King Carol Robert of Anjou (also known as Charles I) in 1307 and completed in 1315. It was restored in the mid-15th century and modified many times since then. It also goes by the name Corvin Castle (Castelul Corvine?tilor) and even more names in other languages. This castle was in Hungary when it was owned by King Matthias Corvin, a contemporary of Vlad III. Corvin, a former friend, imprisoned Vlad in Hunyad Castle for seven years, but then became allies again and Vlad was set free. Vlad's lengthy stay in the castle gives it a valid reason to be called "Dracula's Castle," which lends itself to tourism. The British TV show The Most Haunted Live! filmed for three nights in the castle in 2007. Photograph by Flickr user R Sears.
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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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