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5 Courtship Rituals from Colonial America

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What’s a party without a little romance? Even the Colonists needed love, and their methods might just work for you at your flossy party this Fourth of July.

1. Find a Live One

The earliest colonists—the Puritans who struggled for every mouthful of food and whose yearly death count exceeded that of any George Romero movie—did not have time for the frippery of love and courtship. Marriage was a survival pact. Courtship involved finding a woman of childbearing-ish age who had survived the previous winter. The man plowed things and kept threats of attack at bay. In return, the woman would keep the vermin out of the gruel she whipped up and would provide an outlet for sinful Puritan urges. Urges which would, in turn, provide the young couple with more laborers, so that this circle of mosquito-infested, frost-bitten drudgery could continue until they were released to God by sweet death.

2. Have Your Dads Arrange It

After things were more settled in the (not-at-all-new) “New World,” the living got a little easier, and marriage became more businesslike. In the early 18th century, the American patriarchal home was at its finest. And not patriarchal as we use the term today, where it can be applied to anything from the injustice of the glass ceiling to men who insist on standing up to pee. Back then, a woman literally belonged to her father or husband. They had something called “laws of coverture” which prohibited a married woman from owning property, even if it was hers before the marriage. So “dating” wasn’t really a thing then. Dads did the dating for people.

Marriage was a business arrangement that two men would make, their bargaining chips being their sons’ inheritance and their daughters’ dowries. The goal was to marry wealth and property together; the people were incidental. Love schmove. Our corn crop was terrible this year. You’re marrying for maize.

3. Overthrow a Monarchy, Erotically

Ah, but then came the Revolutionary era. Everybody suddenly got cool.

A bunch of stuff was changing all at once. America had gotten crowded; there were more ways to sustain life than farming and acreage. It was no longer so deathly important that the farm of Goodman Figgenbottom share the water rights of Goodman Pundersnoot, by way of their children sharing bodily fluids.

Plus, the idea of “patriarchy” and completely ruling your “subjects” was losing its popularity in an America that was screaming at a king to stay out of its room. Also, bigger towns and more spacious settlements meant it was harder to keep track of people’s private affairs with their privates.

So now that neither parents nor fear of death were choosing spouses, young people began to do it themselves. And when I say “it,” I mean "it" in the Degrassi Junior High sense. Y’know. “IT.”

4. Promise to Stay on Your Side of the Bundling Board

By comparing marriage records with subsequent birth records, historians can tell that by the late 18th century, 30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.

Society wasn’t really upset that the girls were pregnant, as long as they got married to the father. But not all men were that honorable, especially since the towns were now drawing in unsupervised, strange men to work in seaports and industry.

Colonial society came up with a fairly ingenious solution.

If you were 17, you might suggest to your strict Christian parents that you’d like to snuggle up with sultry Goodie Sally from across the hog farm. You’d promise to keep your underpants on. And your parents would likely help you arrange it. Which makes modern parents look pretty lame by comparison.

You’ve probably heard of this practice, called “bundling,” where unmarried couples could sleep together in the same bed, sometimes with a plank placed between them (for all the good it would do). Parents weren’t stupid. They knew the kids were likely to have sex. Not necessarily while bundling, but behind the barn, in the meadow, during the corn shuck fest. They planned ahead for it like some parents today stock their son’s skater pants with condoms.

Gone were the days that a girl pointing across a magistrate’s court to a scruffy farm boy was enough to force him to marry her. But with bundling, if the girl should fall pregnant, there would be plenty of witnesses to claim the boy in question had access and opportunity. So he either had to pay up or put a ring on it. No ruination for the girl, no fatherless child, no shame for the parents, and the guy? Well, he got some. Totally worth it.  

5. Hold Hands and Make Empty Promises

Handfasting, or spousing, was another way for a dishonorable young rogue to get lucky. Marriage wasn’t as formal an affair back then as you might think. You didn’t need a license or even a presiding authority. It was acceptable to have a common-law marriage, where you basically held hands and agreed to be married. You could do it anywhere. And as court records of the day show, lots of men chose to do it right in front of a nice big bed with a woman they had no intention of eating breakfast with. Sometimes they hopped the next ship for England and got away with it; sometimes they were caught and escorted by armed guard and enraged father into marital bliss.  

Try one of them, or try them all, and good luck getting lucky like a Patriot this fourth!

Sources for this article were provided by Molly Wolf, Library Liaison to the School of Human Sexuality at Widener University.

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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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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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