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11 Inscriptions on Buildings That Tell It Like It Is

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Wikimedia Commons

People have carved inscriptions onto buildings since ancient times. They usually contain wise advice or admonitions. The Temple of Apollo at Delphi says "Know Thyself," and legend has it that an inscription above the door of Plato's school read "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." The practice carried over to humbler buildings, like personal dwellings and shops, and got a boost in popularity with the classical revival of the Middle Ages. Most inscriptions favor fancy Latin proverbs and religious scripture but sometimes they get a little more creative. Here are 11 inscriptions on (mostly) old buildings that tell it like it is.

1. Plaza Entrance in Amsterdam

Homo sapiens non urinat in ventum

This quote, which you can see in the photo above, translates to "A wise man doesn’t piss into the wind." Built in the 1990s, so not exactly an old building yet, but advice for the ages.

2. On a house in Norfolk, UK

Nec mihi glis servus, nec hospes hirudo

This inscription—"No doormouse as servant for me, neither a horse leech for a guest"—was no doubt inspired by an overstayed welcome. Stay away mooches!

3. Almshouse in Herefordshire, UK

Leominster History

"He that gives away all before he's dead, Let 'em take this hatchet and knock him on the head."

Illustrated with the figure of man holding an axe, naked but for his hat, shoes, and a strategically placed knot of fabric. One story (of many) says it refers to the man who founded the almshouse and got into so much debt from building expenses, he ended up spending the rest of his days as a resident.

4. Doorway in Essex on Hilly Road

"The dumb animals' humble petition
Rest, drivers rest, on this steep hill,
Dumb beasts, pray use with all good will.
Goad not, scourge not, with thonged whips;
Let not one curse escape your lips.
'God sees and hears.'"

Someone on that hill got sick of hearing all the shouting and abuse.

5. Under the Coat of Arms, Knowsley Hall in Lancashire

Wikimedia Commons

“James, Earl of Derby, Lord of the Man and the Isles, grandson of James, Earl of Derby, and of Charlotte, daughter of Claude, Duke de la Tremouille, whose husband James was beheaded at Bolton, 15th October, 1652, for strenuously adhering to Charles II, who refused a bill passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, for restoring to the family the estates lost by his loyalty to him, 1732."

The politics are complicated, but it means something like, "I'm putting this here as the grandson of the guy that got beheaded defending Charles II, that jerk who when he got back into power couldn't be bothered to pass a bill that would have given my grandfather's estate back to us. But look, we got it back anyway."

6. Houses in Buckinghamshire

"Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Women."
"An Obedient Wife Governs Her Husband."

Among the inscriptions on the 31 houses of Harleyford village are some that are pretty forward-thinking for the 17th century. Must have been a nice neighborhood.

7. Adare Manor House, co. Limerick, Ireland

Sceptre Tours

"This goodly house was erected by Wyndam Henry, Earl of Dunraven, and Caroline his countess, without borrowing, selling, or leaving a debt, A.D. 1850"

Well, good for you, but you don't have to brag about it. Unfortunately for their descendants, the house proved too expensive to maintain and it was sold to an American businessman in 1984. It's now a lovely hotel.

8. On the Town Gate in Galway, Ireland

"From the ferocious O'Flaherty's, Good Lord deliver us!"

The gate is no more, but legend has it the citizens of Galway erected one in the 1500s with this inscription on it. Another account, unsupported by the historical record, has it that the gates at the other entrance-points to the city read as follows: "From the devlish O'Dalys, Good Lord, defend us!"; "From the cut-throat O'Kellys, Good Lord save and keep us!"; "From the murderous O'Maddens, Good Lord, preserve us!"

9. House in Baumkirchen, Austria

Dies Hause gehört mich nein,
Der nach mir kommt auch nicht sein;
Man trug auch den Dritten, hinaus:
Ach Gott! wem gehört dieses Haus?

"This house belongs not to me,
Neither to him who comes after me;
They carried out the third also (to burial):
Ah God, to whom belongs this house?"

In other words, "Yeah, I guess this is my house, but not really, because nothing actually belongs to us anyway, 'cause we're all gonna die."

10. Various Places in Bavaria, Germany

Extra Bavariam nulla vita, et si vita, non est ita.

This inscription reads, "There's no life outside Bavaria, and if there is, it isn't life at all." And you thought Texas had state pride.

11. A Sundial on a House in Northhamptonshire.

"We shall die all."

Pretty gloomy. Like, "look at the clock, and be reminded how little time you have left." But it sounds less gloomy when you realize it's a pun on "dial." Get it? Sundial? Die all? Feel your gloom being replaced by annoyance?

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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