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11 Dating Tips from Ovid’s Ars Amatoria

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Wikimedia Commons

Before the days of Match.com and Facebook stalking, singles mixers and even personal ads, there was a love and marriage guide for ancient Romans that rivaled anything Oprah or Dear Abby could have cooked up.

Ovid’s Ars Amatoria is a colorful three-part book on how to catch ‘em and keep ‘em for both men and women. The author of the Metamorphosis (the mythological record, not the giant cockroach exposé) includes instructions on how to be a gentleman (brush the dust off her robe even if there’s none there), where to meet girls (the theatre, obviously), and even proper dating hygiene (don’t smell like your livestock). Here are eleven of his best notes of advice for the world’s oldest sport.

1. Don’t expect the One and Only to fall out of the sky and land at your feet.

Even with Cupid pitching on your side, she’s not going to be “wafted down to you from heaven on the wings of the wind,” as the master says. Satisfying love may take some searching, at least in the beginning, and your hard work breaking the two-mile courtship circle will eventually pay off.  

2. Learn to know the places where the fair ones do most haunt.

The best place to find a mate back in the day was apparently Rome, despite mythological heroes Perseus and Theseus finding their queens in India and among the Amazons. Ovid’s favorite local hotspots for singles mingling included the circus, the arena, and even the open-air public market known as the forum.  For a modern hopeful, that could be the local bar, the public library, or a section of Jersey Shore boardwalk—it all depends on your tastes. 

3. The theatre is a great place to pick up girls.

Beautiful women were apparently everywhere in the ancient world (if surviving sculpture is anything to go by), but the go-to place for a veritable “galaxy” of beauties was a good play. There, a Roman could find “crowds of lovely women, gaily dressed,” in search of art and culture. And quite possibly scads of bachelors hoping to score before intermission.

4. Never judge a man, or a woman, by candlelight.

That Adonis or Helen gyrating under the strobe light may be a gorgon under the sunshine the next morning, both in looks and, more importantly, in personality. Ovid warns against an ancient form of drunk goggles as well: “Bringing love and wine together is adding fuel to the fire … If you really want to know what she [or he] is like, look at her by daylight, and when you’re sober.”

5. Personal hygiene is always important.

Research has found that humans are attracted to each other by hormonal scent patterns, but locker room etiquette suggests that you keep at least some of them under wraps. In addition to avoiding strutting out “reeking like a billy-goat,” keep your clothes, hair, teeth, and nails well-groomed and clean. And trim that nose hair.

6. Nothing is so potent as a habit.

If you want the object of your affections to stick around for the long term, begin by paying a visit as frequently as possible. Just as saplings grow into trees and trickles of water grow into rivers, a few friendly conversations might grow into a strong relationship if you take the trouble to drop by every day for a few weeks.

7. Do not make a parade of your nocturnal exploits.

Those notches on the proverbial bedpost might be a pleasure to brag about, Ovid suggests, but they won’t help your or your paramour’s reputation. If you have to spill the juicy details to a friend, at least refrain from painting yourself as the gods’ gift to women or men: “Let us… speak sparingly of our real amours, and hide our secret pleasures beneath an impenetrable veil.” Don’t be a roamin’ Roman. 

8. Study that Greek and Latin.

Seagoing hero Ulysses was eloquent (as was James Joyce, who appears to also write in ancient Greek), and so fluent in ancient tongues and storytelling that he had two goddesses after him. Studying the “refinements of life” in language and history just might land you your own voluptuous island sorceress like Circe. And who doesn’t find dead languages titillating?

9. Fortune, and Venus, favor the brave.

Be bold. It helps that the Goddess of Love and all her minions are on your side, but whether your talents lie in translating Latin poetry or unclogging the office paper shredder, you can use them to pursue and woo the one you set your sights on.

10. Be persistent.

“Love is like warfare … The night, winter, long marches, cruel suffering, painful toil, all these things have to be borne by those who fight in Love's campaigns ... If the ordinary, safe route to your mistress is denied you, if her door is shut against you, climb up on to the roof and let yourself down by the chimney, or the skylight. How it will please her to know the risks you've run for her sake! 'Twill be an earnest of your love.” Just check for burglar alarms first.

11. Pay your lovers in poetry.

Finally, Ovid says, the best way to flatter, thank, praise, or seduce anyone is by a good piece of homemade literature. Even if you’re too poor to afford anything else, a few heartfelt words will let your beloved know how much you cherish him or her, and how much you’d like to keep hanging around for the long run. And even if you haunt the wrong places, can’t speak Greek, fall through the skylight, or smell like a goat, they’ll have at least one good reason to remember you.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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