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7 Astonishing Roman Coliseum Fights

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ThinkStock

Say what you will about violence in American football, but the Coliseum of ancient Rome may have been the single most barbaric sporting venue in human history. Some of the showdowns witnessed there were so ferocious that historians still talk about them today.

1. Elephant Blinds Rhino

Everyone associates the Coliseum with gladiators, but animal-on-animal clashes were also popular spectacles. Prior to the reign of emperor Claudius, a few witnesses recalled a particularly gory battle staged between an elephant and an enraged rhinoceros which the former won after picking up a broken spear-point with its trunk and gouging the eyes out of its horned adversary.

2. Carpophorus’ Slaughter

A bestiarius, whose specialty involved fighting wild animals, could expect to have a short career even by gladiator standards. Among the most famous was Carpophorus, a frequent dispatcher of lions, bears, and leopards, whose personal best involved killing 20 beasts in a single battle.

3. Flamma’s Final Bout

Talk about stamina. Flamma’s love for the ring was so strong that he rejected freedom offers made by impressed Roman politicians not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times! The former Syrian soldier fought in 33 clashes before finally meeting his end on the sands of the Coliseum at age 30. By then, his popularity was so extensive that his face was being used on a Roman coin.

4. Heckler Gets Disemboweled

Widely cited as one of Rome’s most ruthless emperors, Domitian’s (51-96 CE) sadism was greatly appeased by the Coliseum, which he endowed with lavish improvements and expanded seating. He approached the games with deadly seriousness, as one unfortunate citizen learned. After the man jeered a favorite gladiator, Domitian had him dragged into the center of the arena and thrown to a gang of ravenous dogs, which swiftly tore him limb from limb.

5. Titus’ Epic Naval Battle

In a marvel of theatrical engineering, the Coliseum was periodically flooded and filled with ships to re-enact oceanic conflicts. Historian Dio Cassius had the following to say of a particularly notorious one arranged by the emperor Titus in 80 CE: “Titus filled the arena with water… He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea fight there [in] a naval battle between three thousand men.”

6. Commodus Plays Giant-Slayer

Commodus is best known for having been portrayed as a psychopathic madman by Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s 2000 film Gladiator. While the movie’s historical accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, the emperor’s savagery in real life was nothing to sneeze at. Seeing Hercules as his personal idol, Commodus made several appearances as a gladiator in the Coliseum, winning a series of obviously-rigged confrontations. Perhaps his most brutal display came when he tied a number of injured citizens together before clubbing them to death, pretending they were giants all the while.

7. Priscus versus Verus

Here’s a happy ending for a change. In the first century CE, the poet Martial recorded the most detailed account of a gladiator battle known to modern historians. During a series of games held by Titus, the pair of gladiators battled for hours before simultaneously laying down their weapons and surrendering to each other. Touched by their sportsmanship, Titus granted the pair their freedom as the crowd cheered uproariously. In Martial’s words (aimed at the emperor), “Under no prince but thee, Caesar, has this chanced: while two fought, each was victor.”

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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