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Kentucky’s $30 Million Castle

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Castle Post is a beautiful medieval-style stone castle completely enclosed by a stone wall with turrets on a 50-acre estate in Versailles. Versailles, Kentucky, that is, near Lexington. Begun as a labor of love, it’s now a bed and breakfast, and a lovely place to hold a wedding. But for decades it was a mysterious sight on the side of the road with no one at home.

Anthony via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In the 1960s, Rex Martin and his wife Caroline Bogaert Martin traveled to Europe and were impressed by the many medieval castles they saw. How nice it would be to have one of their own! They bought 53 acres in Kentucky’s horse farm country and started construction in 1969. The building went slowly because the plans kept getting bigger, and the castle was still unfinished when the Martins divorced in 1975. Neither wanted to talk about the castle or the divorce, but the divorce papers mentioned “castle acreage” as part of their troubles. Much later, Caroline Martin reportedly said that she only wanted a house surrounded by stone walls, and originally they were looking for a small lot of just a couple of acres. But the project ballooned over time. “It just got larger and larger,” she said.

mr_t_77 via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

After the divorce, Rex Martin looked into turning the castle into a commercial property, such as a museum or an art gallery, but kept running into zoning ordinance problems. The residents in the area did not want to open their neighborhood up to commercial businesses, fearing high-rise construction and traffic congestion. Ultimately, he put a For Sale sign in front of the property and moved to Georgia. For decades, people called the number on the sign to inquire about the property with the still-unfinished castle, but Martin was not interested in returning calls.

Meanwhile, Martin Castle (sometimes called Castle Farm) became a landmark in Kentucky. People driving along Versailles Road (or Lexington Road, depending on which direction you went) were surprised by the sight of a stone castle with extensive walls and turrets along the side of the highway. But no one knew much about it. No one lived there, and no one answered the phone if you called the number on the sign. Martin Castle sat empty for more than 30 years.

Martin Castle before the 2004 fire.

Rex Martin never returned to the castle, and died in 2003. Miami lawyer and real estate investor Tom Post, who grew up in Lexington, saw the For Sale sign in 2000, and spent months tracking down the owners. He bought the property for $1.8 million from Martin’s heirs in 2003. He began renovations immediately, but an electrical fire in May 2004 destroyed much of the improvements and Post had to start over. He gave up his original plans to use the castle as a vacation home decided to make it a luxury bed and breakfast. By 2008, he had finished building a 50-room castle inside the walls.

Sarah Altendorf via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The hotel is now named Castle Post, which offers 10 luxury rooms and suites, and is available for weddings and special occasions. Rooms were as high as $3000 a night when Castle Post first opened, but business picked up considerably when rates were lowered to less than half the amount. Weekday rates are as low as $195 a night. There are four rooms on the second floor of the castle wall’s turrets, for extra privacy.

Navin Rajagopalan via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Castle Post was listed for sale in 2010 for $30 million, but there were no buyers. The castle was put up for sale again in May 2014 but was removed in September of that year. However, enough publicity was generated so that anyone with $30 million who wants a castle in Kentucky will be steered in the right direction. 

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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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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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