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A Brief History of 8 Epic Breakups

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Getty Images/Erin McCarthy

Breaking the traditional romantic comedy mold, Jo Piazza's hilarious debut novel Love Rehab: A Novel in Twelve Steps starts with the breakup. And like many a Kelly Clarkson song, this summer read is inspired by all the crazy things we do in the name of love, and its conclusion. Inspired by her book, Jo assembled this list of real-life break-ups so heartbreaking, they went down in history.

1. When Theseus abandoned Ariadne

Back in the ancient days of yore, Ariadne’s father, the Cretan King Minos, put her in charge of his most prized possession—his labyrinth. Ariadne developed a crush on the Athenian hero Theseus and gave him a thread in order to help him find his way out of the deathly maze to defeat the beastly Minotaur.

Theseus was grateful, but not grateful enough. He later abandoned Ariadne while she slept on the island of Naxos. Talk about leaving a girl out in the cold. 

2. When Julius Caesar broke up with Cossutia

Back when Julius Caesar was still an up-and-coming military man, he was engaged to a modest young lass named Cossutia. Historical accounts disagree as to whether the pair actually made it official and tied the knot, but what is known is that Caesar ended the relationship to forge a union better suited to his upwardly mobile agenda and ultimately married the politically well-connected Cornelia Cinnilla, who helped him launch his career as a Roman ruler.

3. When Henry VIII beheaded Anne Boleyn

The ever-fickle King Henry VIII found it difficult to ditch his wife of three years, Anne Boleyn, when she was unable to bear him a son. He had already become infatuated with Anne’s second cousin Jane Seymour. Instead of changing church law to rid himself of his unwanted wife, Hank trumped up treason charges and had Anne beheaded. You could say that is moderately worse than being dumped by Post-it.

4. When Abraham Lincoln un-proposed to Mary Owens

Long before he became president and before he met the spunky Mary Todd, young lawyer Abraham Lincoln found himself in a prickly position with a Kentucky woman named Mary Owens. Mary’s sister Elizabeth had been trying to hook up the pair, despite the fact that they had never met. Lincoln, ever the jokester, told the meddling sibling that he would marry Mary if she moved to Illinois.

He sent a series of letters to Mary to convince her that she wanted nothing to do with him or Illinois-living: “You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now imagine,” he wrote.

It might have been easier to avoid proposing (even in jest) in the first place.

5. When Wallis Simpson dumped Ernest Aldrich Simpson

The shipping tycoon Simpson left his first wife to marry the socialite Wallis Spencer. The businessman shouldn’t have been surprised, then, when Wallis stepped out herself and began an affair with Edward the Prince of Wales. Wallis eventually left her husband for Edward, forcing him to choose between the crown and his lady. He famously abdicated his throne on her behalf and the pair spent the rest of their lives being very rich together at fabulous parties around the globe.

6. When Matt Damon left Minnie Driver

Damon and Driver, co-stars in the star-making “Good Will Hunting,” had been seeing each other for seven months when Boston-bred Damon took to Oprah’s couch to tell her national audience that he was single. The news came as a complete surprise to Driver, who became the media’s poster girl for bad breakups—until Jennifer Aniston stole her thunder.

7. When Brad Pitt cheated on Jennifer Aniston

The most lucrative celebrity split in the history of celebrity splits is none other than the failed union of America’s sweetheart and the sexiest man alive, Brad Pitt.

The perfect tabloid storm kicked off in 2005 when Pitt ditched Aniston for the sultry Angelina Jolie. The daughter of actor Jon Voight and model Marcheline Bertrand, Jolie was the anti-Aniston. She had attended her first wedding, to British actor Jonny Lee Miller, in black rubber boots and a white t-shirt decorated with the groom’s name written in her blood, while thousands of women across the U.S. were asking their hairdressers to give them layers like their favorite Friend’s.

Jolie and Pitt met while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and rumors of their on-set affair proved true when Aniston filed for divorce from Pitt in March of 2005. One month later, Peter Grossman, photo editor of US Weekly magazine, paid $500,000 for paparazzi pictures of Pitt and Jolie frolicking on a beach in Kenya with Jolie's young son Maddox. In January 2006, Jolie announced that she was pregnant with Pitt’s child. The paychecks for pictures would only get bigger.

8. Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren

Little did former nanny turned mom of two Elin Nordegren know, when she attacked her golfer husband Tiger Woods with a golf club, that it would become the marital spat heard round the world.  It was soon revealed that Woods had cheated on the beautiful Swede with at least ten mistresses. Maybe she should have used the 9-iron.

Jo Piazza is the author of Love Rehab: A Novel in 12 Steps. You can get the book here.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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