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How to Win a Duel

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ThinkStock

So you’ve been challenged to a duel? Don’t worry—you’re in good company. Anybody who’s anybody has dueled once or twice, from presidents like Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln to artists like Edouard Manet and Miguel Cervantes. For centuries, duels were the ideal way to defend your honor after an insult, but in the present day, shooting a rival is considered terrible form, which is why instead of being the deadliest man in your duel, you should work on being the cleverest. The last thing you want to do is actually fight a duel, so use your brain to get out of the situation with your honor intact.

1) Mind Your Manners

One of the reasons dueling remained popular late into the 19th century was because people believed it made society more civilized. The 1937 manual The Art of Dueling argues that the risk of a duel made everyone act nicer: “The great gentleness and complacency of modern manners . . . must be ascribed, in some degree to this absurd custom.” Of course, another way to act nicer is to not shoot people over arguments.

2) But Don’t Say No

If challenged to a duel, accept it. A refusal will stain your reputation, especially since according to dueling etiquette the challenger is entitled to walk the nearest newspaper and print an article accusing you of cowardice. For politicians, bad press like that was career suicide. That’s why so many officeholders in the 18th and 19th centuries dueled—reputations were on the line.

3) Get Caught Up In The Rules

Okay, so you’ve accepted the duel. The key now is to get out of this pickle without getting injured or hurting your rival. So use the rulebook to your advantage. The most popular dueling rulebook, Code Duello, was written in 1777, and its 25 rules were meant to be complex. Follow them, and you and your challenger may become so bogged down discussing logistics that cooler heads may prevail. In fact, that’s exactly why the code was written: to decrease injuries and increase the chances for apologies.

4) Order Seconds

After a challenge, ask your most obsessive-compulsive friend to be your second. A second acts as a witness and part-time referee, making sure all the rules are followed. It’s also the second’s job to defuse the situation, sweet-talking both sides into apologizing. Just ask Mark Twain.

When publisher James Laird challenged the author to a duel, Twain’s second, Steve Gillis, took the author out target shooting. Twain was an awful shot. So before the duel, a quick-thinking Gillis grabbed a chicken and blasted its head off. When Twain’s challenger saw the bird, Gillis convinced him that Twain did it. It scared Laird so much he called off the duel.

5) Choose Your Weapons

There’s a big advantage to being the one who gets challenged: You get to pick the weapon. You are allowed to pick anything—so choose wisely. In the 1860s, German statesman Otto von Bismarck challenged doctor Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Weighing his options, Virchow supposedly skipped the rapier and pistol and chose to arm himself with sausage. He challenged Bismarck to eat two pork sausages, one of which was infected with the roundworm Trichinella. Bismark bowed out.

6) Pick Your Spots

As the challenged, you also get to pick the location. When James Shields challenged Abraham Lincoln in 1842, Abe decided to host the duel in a pit near the Mississippi River. Lincoln divided the pit with a board and declared that neither man could cross it. Dueling with broadswords, Shields realized that lanky Lincoln had a far longer reach. The two quickly made peace.
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If you’ve followed these steps, you should have defused any tensions with your rival and exchanged apologies. Want to really bury the hatchet? Buy him a cold Dos Equis. Who could stay mad at someone who buys such a refreshing beer?

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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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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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