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7 Artifacts (Supposedly) Connected to St. Patrick

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Wikimedia Commons

St. Patrick crafted a legacy that remains alive and well in the Emerald Isle and across the Atlantic. A handful of relics have been said to sport some connection to the man, from the well he purportedly used to the silver case molded for his severed arm. While their authenticity is questionable at best, these items’ collective cultural impact cannot be over-emphasized. Here are seven objects linked—in one way or another—to the life and ministry of Ireland’s Patron Saint.

1. St. Patrick’s Tooth and Its Shrine

Courtesy of Flickr user Dominotic

As its name implies, legend holds that the ornate “Shrine of St. Patrick’s Tooth” once contained an actual tooth Patrick lost while visiting the ancient church of Killaspugbrone. During the 14th century, a wooden box coated in gold, silver, and amber was assembled to shelter the hallowed tooth. Since then, its dental occupant has vanished, but you can still see this intricate artifact today at the National Museum of Ireland.

2. The Well of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

In 1901, the remains of an ancient well were uncovered near St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. According to the church’s official website, it is “possible that this was the same well which St. Patrick used in the fifth century [to baptize Christian converts]” in the area. Even by the Cathedral’s own admission this is a fairly speculative conclusion, but if you’re at all interested in Irish history, the building is worth a visit.

3. The Bellshrine of St. Patrick

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One of Ireland’s most famous relics, this bell claimed to have belonged to the Saint was placed in a shrine made of bronze plates at King Domhall Ua Lochlainn’s request during the 12th century.

4. St. Patrick’s Tombstone

Wikimedia Commons

St. Patrick’s earliest biographers state that he was buried somewhere around the vicinity of Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland. While it’s impossible to ascertain his body’s precise whereabouts, a “memorial stone” (taken from the neighboring Mourne Mountains) was placed on the church’s grounds in 1900 by the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club to mark the approximate location.

5. St. Patrick’s Croizer (“Pastoral Staff”)

According to historian Brian Mac Giolla Phadraig, tradition holds that St. Patrick received this rod “from a hermit on an island in the Mediterranean to whom it had been given by [Jesus] himself with an injunction to give it to Patrick when he should arrive." Although images of St. Patrick clutching the croizer are a common fixture in Irish artwork, the staff itself was denounced as an “object of superstition” and publically destroyed in 1538 by English invaders.

6. The Shrine of St. Patrick’s Hand

Metropolitan Museum

Disembodied appendages are rarely treated to their very own caskets. But when you’re revered as a saint, nothing’s too good for one of your amputated limbs. A silver holster was forged to envelop a severed arm and hand popularly believed to have been St. Patrick’s. But, like the religious figure’s aforementioned tooth, these bony remnants have also gone missing. The container is on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

7. The Confessio & The Book of Armagh

“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers.” So begins St. Patrick’s Confessio ("Confession”), a letter the famed missionary composed late in his life. The candid document explains his religious convictions and reveals some important biographical details (for example, his father, Calpornius, was a deacon). While the original text has been lost to history, the earliest-known copy is recorded in the Book of Armagh, which was written during the 9th century & currently resides at the Library of Trinity College in Dublin.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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