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The Saint We Call Valentine

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Who was Saint Valentine? The name was used by at least three martyrs of the early church, although there is little documentation on any of them. The confusion over the actual saint led the church to drop St. Valentine's Day from its official list of feasts in 1969. And there have been other saints in more recent times with the same name.

The Saints

The saint named Valentinus was a priest in Rome who suffered under the persecution of Christians by the reign of Claudius II. He was reported to have been arrested and beaten, and finally beheaded on February 14th, around the year 270, although evidence of the actual deed is scant. Written records of Valentinus only go back to several hundred years after his death, but there was an ancient church in Rome dedicated to St. Valentine.

Valentine was also the name of the first Bishop of Interamna (now Terni), Italy. He also was said to have been martyred on February 14th, possibly in 273 AD. The basilica of San Valentino in Terni is supposed to hold the remains of the saint. Some believe that Valentinus and the Bishop of Terni may actually have been the same person, who served both towns during different times. After all, Valentine of Terni, a noted healer, was martyred in Rome after he was summoned there to heal a philosopher's son, who was suffering from a twisted spine.

Photo credit: Flickr user Christian Pichler.

A third saint was a man named Valentine who was martyred in northern Africa along with several companions. Nothing else is known of him. In the thousand years since, there have been dozens of men -and at least one woman- named Valentine to be proclaimed saints.

The Feast

The feast day actually came about as a reaction to the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15th. One of the customs of Lupercalia was for each man to draw the name of a woman who would be his sexual companion for the year. In the year 496, Pope Gelasius I changed this custom to that of having young people draw the name of a saint to emulate through the year. He referred to St. Valentine, whose death date was convenient for the feast, as one "... whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." This only cemented the idea that Valentinus was an "undocumented" saint.  

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the date of February 14th is also associated with romance because halfway through February is when birds begin to pair up for mating season.

The Relics

For a saint who died so long ago and left so little documentation, there are plenty of his corporeal relics left behind. The fact that there were a great number of saints named Valentine may explain the many relics.

Photograph by Flickr user Mike Coats.

A skull reputed to be Valentine's lies on an alter at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome. The skull is always crowned with flowers.

The parish church in Chelmno, Poland, has a silver reliquary containing parts of Saint Valentine's skull. It has been there since around 1680.

The saint's shoulder blade is housed at the Church of Saints Paul and Peter in Prague, Czech Republic. It is said that Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV brought the relic to Prague in the 1300s.

Photo credit: Flickr user A.Currell.

The Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, contains a shrine to Saint Valentine and a reliquary, a box within a box, purportedly containing a few relics of his body and a vial of his blood. The relics were a gift from Pope Gregory XVI to church founder John Spratt in 1836.

A blight on the vineyards of Roquemaure, France, in 1866 spurred a local landowner to make a pilgrimage to Rome for intervention. He returned home in 1868 with a few relics of the body of Saint Valentine. The relics are interred at the local church except on February 14th, when they are carried through the streets of Roquemaure in celebration of La Festo di Poutoun.

Saint Francis’ Church in Glasgow, Scotland, was the recipient of a gift of Saint Valentine relics from a wealthy French family in 1868. In 1999, the relics were sent to Blessed St John Duns Scotus, where the relics were given a place of honor.

Photo credit: Flickr user Mike Tigas.

There are even Saint Valentine relics in the United States. The Old St. Ferdinand Church in Florissant, Missouri, is the oldest Catholic church west of the Mississippi. A shrine inside the church has a wax replica of Saint Valentine; inside this wax figure is a relic of the saint, which was presented to Bishop Louis William Valentine Dubourg as a gift from the King of France in the early 1800s.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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