CLOSE
Original image
Fangoria/Murderpedia

The Real-Life Murderess Behind American Horror Story: Coven

Original image
Fangoria/Murderpedia

I think we can all agree that Kathy Bates is terrifying when she puts her mind to it.

If you watched American Horror Story: Coven, she was undoubtedly the cause of a few chills down your spine. In case you didn’t see it, she plays Delphine LaLaurie, a character Bates has called “five times worse” than Annie Wilkes from Misery.

And here’s the true spine-tingling part: Bates’ torture-happy mistress was based on a real person.

Marie Delphine LaLaurie was a thrice-married New Orleans socialite in the early 1800s. Like many wealthy southerners of the time, the LaLauries had household slaves. Though it had been long-rumored that the slaves were treated cruelly, even for the era, the final straw came in 1833, when a young slave girl named Lia (or Leah) was brushing Mme. LaLaurie’s hair and accidentally hit a tangle. Outraged at the abuse of her tender head, Delphine chased the poor girl around the house with a whip. The chase ended on the roof of the mansion, where Lia was driven to the edge by the whip-wielding lady of the house. Forced to choose between a flogging or a leap, Lia chose the latter and died when she smashed into the stone courtyard three stories below. It’s said that her body narrowly missed hitting a man who was entering the house; the man reported LaLaurie to the police. After the girl’s body was found in a well on the property, the household was fined $300 and had to sell their slaves.

The poor slaves who thought the nightmare was over were wrong. Madame LaLaurie simply gave an associate the funds to purchase her slaves at auction, then had them promptly returned to the house.

In 1834, one of the kitchen staff purposely set the building on fire, hoping that outside help would arrive. She wasn't disappointed. When firemen showed up, they found a 70-year-old kitchen slave chained to the stove—she had obviously decided that risking death by fire was preferable to remaining in the “employ” of her sadistic mistress any longer. The woman pleaded with the firemen to rescue slaves from a room in the attic. When the men got upstairs, they had to knock the attic door down with a battering ram—and what they found inside actually made some of them vomit.

Legend has it (and it is very likely that the stories were embellished over time) that there were slaves with their eyes gouged out. Slaves with their limbs amputated. At least one had her skin peeled off. Many of their mouths had been sewn shut, sometimes with animal feces inside. One woman’s limbs had been broken, then reset so that she resembled a “human crab.” And the worst part—most of them were still alive. While it’s hard to say how many men, women, and children suffered at the hands of the LaLauries over the years, some accounts put it at 100 or more.

When word got out, an angry mob—some reports put the number at 4000—congregated outside of the LaLaurie residence and over the course of the night and the next morning systematically destroyed most of it. Sadly, Madame LaLaurie and her husband managed to escape by coach before anyone could bring them to justice. No one really knows what happened to them after that. Most accounts say the couple made their way to Paris, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But others say they simply moved to a different part of the state and acquired more slaves, or even stayed in New Orleans under assumed names.

So, while Kathy Bates was quite terrifying even just one episode into American Horror Story: Coven, the true horror is that those Mengeleian experiments might have been real.

Oh, and if you took note of the little Nicolas Cage reference in the show and wondered what that was all about, that’s also based in reality. Cage purchased the house of horrors in 2007 for almost $3.5 million. It was foreclosed in 2009.

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