CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

4 Crazy Things Found in Drawers

Original image
Wikimedia Commons/Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Humanity has been meaning to clean out its junk drawer since 1824. That, at least, is when the charming poem "Articles Found in a Kitchen Drawer" first appeared in a London magazine, and the inventory remains recognizable even today:

A rusty bent skewer, a broken brass cock,
Some onions and tinder, and the draw'r lock;
A bag for the pudding, a whetstone and string,
A penny-cross bun and a new curtain-ring:—
A print for the butter, a dirty chemise,
Two pieces of soap and a large piece of cheese;
Five tea-spoons of tin, a large lump of rosin,
The feet of a hare, and corks by the dozen;—
A card to tell fortunes, a sponge and a can,
A pen without ink, and a small patty pan...

Sometimes, though, drawers do turn up something better than old rubber bands and disused phone chargers. There's the occasional fortune in Spanish gold—and maybe even a Nobel Prize or two—to be found.

DRAWER #1: A Millennium-Old Runic Enigma

No matter how old the junk in your drawer is, you're unlikely to top one family in the French village of Auzon. A visiting professor in the 1850s discovered that they possessed the pieces of a peculiar old broken sewing box of heavily carved whalebone, some of which they'd simply tossed into a drawer. Now displayed in the British Museum, it's proved to be very old junk indeed: more than 1000 years old, in fact. Dubbed the "Franks Casket," the carvings on it are a dizzying mix of verse in Old English runes and Latin ciphers. Its panels depict Roman and Germanic mythology alike, along with a Christian Adoration of the Magi thrown in for good measure. Although the lettering dates it to 8th century Northumberland, the meaning of its enigmatic artwork has had scholars arguing for more than a century.

But how did it wind up in a junk drawer? It appears to have been looted during the French Revolution from the shrine of Saint-Julien in Brioude, where nobody had taken much notice of it. And until one of the family's children naughtily removed the silver hinges and fittings, the box had done perfectly good household duty—not at holding an ancient mystery, but at holding thimbles and spools.

DRAWER #2: Newton's Golden Guinea

Auctioneers aren't necessarily thrilled when you ask if coins you found in an old drawer are worth anything. Chances are, they're not—and that's what Gorringes Auction House staffer Leslie Gillham was about to explain in 2012 to an anonymous local retiree in the Kentish town of Tunbridge Wells.

"She gave me two silver crowns and I thought 'shame you haven't got any gold coins,'" he explained to the Kent News afterward. "Then she produced the 5-guinea piece, which made my eyes nearly pop out of my head."

The coin, found in her late husband's handkerchief drawer, was a rare 1703 Vigo 5-guinea piece. Only 16 are known to exist. Though a guinea was traditionally worth about £1 and minted from West African gold (hence the name), Vigos were struck from gold captured in 1702 from a Spanish fleet in Vigo Bay. The haul was modest—4500 pounds of silver, and a mere 7.5 pounds of gold—but the Royal Mint, then overseen by Isaac Newton, used the handful of Spanish gold to mint a special run of guineas to "Continue to Posterity the Remembrance of that Glorious Action."

As to how one appeared in a handkerchief drawer, the widow hadn't a clue. It may have already been there when she inherited the bureau from her parents, because her husband didn't collect coins. His spouse certainly gained some modern coinage, though: The guinea sold last December for £296,160 ($476,871).

DRAWER #3: Radioactive Fame

February 26, 1896, began inauspiciously for Henri Becquerel. A professor of Physics at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, Becquerel was inspired by the recent discovery of X-rays to experiment with some photographic plates—namely, to see if uranium salts emitted X-rays after exposure to sunlight. There was just one problem: The sun wasn't cooperating. Paris was overcast, and Professor Becquerel dejectedly wrapped up his plates and the uranium and shoved them together into a desk drawer. The plates, he figured, would at best show "very weak" images. But when he finally developed them a few days later, he was stunned to find that "silhouettes appeared with great intensity." Despite sitting in a dark desk drawer for days, something exposed the film. The logical explanation was that the uranium itself was emitting radiation even without any external excitation—an unheard-of phenomenon.

Carefully controlled follow-up experiments by Becquerel proved his hunch right—and inspired Marie Curie and her husband Pierre to research what Marie would dub radioactivity. The "failed" experiment in a Paris drawer brought worldwide fame: In 1903, Becquerel and the Curies were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize.

DRAWER #4: F. Scott Fitzgerald's Lost Years

Authors, Ernest Hemingway once mused, were best advised to meet Hollywood studios at the state line: "You throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came." But his fellow Lost Generation icon F. Scott Fitzgerald spent years in the 1930s writing for studios, where the Great Gatsby author was paid handsomely to write one ill-fated script after another. Visiting Metro Goldwyn Mayer's offices in 1985, University of Nebraska assistant professor Wheeler Winston Dixon found their basement contained desks still stuffed with Fitzgerald's notes—"they had the actual legal pads there, intact," Dixon recalls in amazement. Among their boxes of castoffs, he discovered Fitzgerald's six-page outline for the ending of his famously unfinished script to Infidelity, a 1938 Joan Crawford vehicle that got scrapped for portraying, well, infidelity.

These days the notes are safely archived at the University of South Carolina, far from MGM's basement—and Dixon is now a Professor of Film Studies at University of Nebraska. Fitzgerald's screenplay and concluding notes remain something of an undiscovered treasure, Professor Dixon insists: "I still think to this day, if you gave it to a really good screenwriter, it'd be a brilliant script."

See Also: 9 Crazy Things People Found Inside Their Walls

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES