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15 Historical Brother vs. Brother Matchups

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On Sunday, Jim and John Harbaugh will become the first siblings to square off from opposite sidelines when their teams take the field for Super Bowl XLVII. That two brothers should both reach the Super Bowl as head coaches is remarkable, and a feat worthy of celebration. But for as long as there have been brothers, brothers have been competing, fighting, betraying, and even killing each other. In honor of the Harbowl (Superbaugh?), here's our brief and incomplete guide to battling brothers.

1. Cain vs. Abel

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The Book of Genesis says that Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel, the second son. Cain was likely motivated by jealousy: He murdered his brother after Abel's offering was looked upon favorably by God, while Cain's was not.

2. Cyrus the Younger vs. Artaxerxes II

When Plutarch wrote about the childhood of the sons of Darius II of Persia, Artaxerxes and Cyrus the Younger, he said that "Cyrus, from his earliest youth, showed something of a headstrong and vehement character; Artaxerxes, on the other side, was gentler in everything, and of a nature more yielding and soft in its action." Artaxerxes ascended the throne to become King of Persia in 404 BC, and Cyrus began plotting his brother's assassination soon after. Three years later, Cyrus was killed in battle during a failed attempt to oust his brother.

3. Pērōz vs. Hormīzd III

In 457, Pērōz became involved in a bitter two year battle against his brother, Hormīzd III, emperor of the Sassanid Dynasty (think pre-Islamic Persia). Ultimately, Pērōz killed Hormīzd and took the throne.

4. Mahmud of Ghazni vs. Ismail

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In 998, Mahmud of Ghazni (above), founder of the Ghaznavid Empire—a vast swath that included present-day Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India—became the first man in history to assume the title of “Sultan.” But that power wasn't given to him; Mahmud had to take it ... from this brother. His father, the great ruler Sabuktegin, passed over Mahmud and granted dominion to his brother, Ismail. Upon hearing about the appointment, Mahmud challenged his brother’s power, overcoming Ismail’s supporters, taking control of Ghazni, and condemning his brother to house arrest for the rest of his life.

5. Henry I vs. Robert, Duke of Normandy

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Henry the First of England (right), the fourth son of William the Conqueror, ascended to the throne after the death of his older brother, William II, and before his other brother, Robert—who was next in line for the throne—could return from the First Crusade. A few years later, Henry defeated his Robert’s army and imprisioned his brother, first in the Tower of London and eventually in Cardiff, Wales; Henry also stripped Robert of his title of Duke of Normandy.

6. King Richard vs. John

If you're familiar with Robin Hood, you know this one: In 1192, King Richard of England was imprisoned by Duke Leopold of Austria as he returned home from the Crusades. While Richard was imprisoned, his brother John seized the throne. Two years later, when Richard returned home, he forgave his brother—but took away all of this lands, with the exception of Ireland.

7. Dara vs. Shuja vs. Aurangzeb vs. Murad

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In 1658, the four sons of Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor, all laid claim to the throne when Jahan fell ill. All four sons were formidable men. Dara, the eldest, was the designated heir; Shuja was the Governor of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa; Aurangzeb covered the provence of Deccan; and Murad oversaw Gujarat and Malwa. All hell broke loose. Aurangzeb defeated Dara and occupied the imperial capital of Agra; he took his own dad captive. Shuja was defeated. Murad was taken prisoner. Dara rose again—but Aurazngzeb defeated him again. Eventually Dara was sentenced to death for idolatry and apostasy from Islam. Aurangzeb took over as king—ruling for 49 years—and delivered the decapitated head of his brother Dara to their father.

8. James Campbell vs. Alexander Campbell

James and Alexander Campbell, immigrant brothers from Scotland, fought on opposing sides during the American Civil War. Alexander had settled in New York City; James in Charleston. In the lead up to the war, each man took up the side of the place he’d settled in. During the Battle of Secessionville, the first major attempt by the federals to regain Charleston, Alexander and James were within yards of each other, but were unaware of that fact until near the end of the battle.

9. Leo Gallagher vs. Ron Gallagher

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In the early 1990s, Leo Gallagher's younger brother, Ron, asked for permission to perform shows using Gallagher's signature produce-destroying Sledge-O-Matic. Leo consented on the condition that Ron made it clear in promotional materials that Leo Gallagher was not performing. After several years, Ron began promoting his act as "Gallagher Too" and sometimes even promoted his routine in a way that provided no indication that they weren’t seeing Leo perform. In August 2000, Leo sued Ron for trademark violations and false advertising. The courts sided with Leo, granting an injunction that prohibits Ron from performing any act that impersonates Leo.

10. Christopher Hitchens vs. Peter Hitchens

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Christopher Hitchens and his brother fell out over a joke about Stalinism, but instead of just doing what we'd all do and ignoring one another, they debated on TV and in print. After the birth of Peter's third child, the brothers reconciled—kind of. "There is no longer any official froideur," Christopher told The Guardian in 2006. "But there's no official—what's the word?—chaleur, either."

11. Joe Niekro vs. Phil Niekro

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Baseball-playing brothers Phil (above) and Joe Niekro faced off against each other more than once. As a pitcher for the Houston Astros, Joe went 5-4 against Phil. Joe even hit his first major league homer off Phil, who was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves at the time.

12. Dom DiMaggio vs. Joe DiMaggio

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Dom DiMaggio, little brother of Yankee great Joe (above), played for a long and productive career with his brother’s hated rival, the Boston Red Sox. Joe spent his entire 13-year career with the Yankees. That must have made for some interesting family dinners.

13. John McEnroe vs. Patrick McEnroe

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In August of 1985, John McEnroe, at the time the world’s number one tennis player, unmercifully defeated his younger brother Patrick in straight sets (6-1, 6-2) at the Volvo tournament in Stratton, Vermont. "I can win a few points from him in practice, but today he was putting a lot of pressure on me," Patrick told reporters after the match. "The shots were coming back so fast."

14. Randy Poffo vs. Lanny Poffo

Nowhere is sibling rivalry more heated than professional wrestling. In 1979, Randy Poffo (a.k.a. Macho Man Randy Savage) defeated his brother Lanny (known as The Genius of Leaping Lanny Poffo) to become the ICW World Champions. And they're not the only brothers in the professional wrestling world to fight: For a spell, the Steiner Brothers hated each other. So did the Harts: Bret and Owen.

15. Adi Dassler vs. Rudi Dassler

In 1924, brothers Adi (above) and Rudi Dassler formed the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. After World War II, however, the brothers' relationship deteriorated. Neither would say what caused the rift, but in 1948, Adi formed Adidas, while Rudi moved to the opposite side of town to form his own company, Puma. Their rivalry grew increasingly hostile as the years passed, and they never reconciled.

BONUS: Pop Culture's Brother Battles

Pop culture is rife with brother on brother hatred—and violence. On ABC’s vampire drama Dark Shadows, the vampire Barnabas killed his brother in a duel. So did Atilla on HBO’s Rome. Fredo Corleone of The Godfather betrayed Michael, so Michael had Fredo shot during a fishing trip on Lake Tahoe. Game of Thrones gave us Stannis Baratheon smiting his brother Renly with the help of sorcery. Some of Shakespeare's characters had brother issues (cough, cough, LEAR). Thor will forever be throwing his hammer at Loki.

It’s a messy business, brotherhood. Perhaps Mrs. Harbaugh wishes she’d had girls.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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