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15 Things You Should Know About 'Venus de Milo'

For much of the world, the mystery of the Venus de Milo lies in her missing arms. But there's much more to this iconic statue than a couple of absent appendages. 

1. Venus de Milo's title is a bit misleading. 

It's popularly believed that this Grecian statue depicts the Greek Goddess of love and beauty, who was often rendered half-naked. However, the Greeks would have called this deity Aphrodite. Nonetheless, the Roman-inspired Venus de Milo caught on. 

2. She's named in part for where she was discovered. 

On April 8, 1820, a farmer named Yorgos Kentrotas came across the statue in pieces within the ruins of an ancient city on the island of Milos (formerly known as Melos). 

3. Alexandros of Antioch is credited with her creation.

A sculptor of the Hellenistic period, Alexandros is believed to have carved this masterpiece between 130 and 100 BCE. The inscription on the plinth—the slab on which the statue rested—that identified him as Venus de Milo's creator was lost nearly 200 years ago. 

4. She might not be Venus. 

Some have suggested the sculpture is not Aphrodite/Venus, but Amphitrite, the sea goddess who was particularly adored on Milos. Still others have proposed she's Victory, or perhaps a prostitute. With her arms long missing, would-be context clues have been lost for centuries. A spear could have meant one thing, a spool of thread another. If she held an apple—as some reports claim—it could mean she was Aphrodite, holding the award given to her by Paris before the Trojan War began. To this day, it's a matter of passionate debate

5. She became a gift to the King of France. 

When Kentrotas called upon a French naval officer to help him unearth the spectacular sculpture, he began a chain of events that would eventually lead to the Marquis de Rivière presenting Venus de Milo to Louis XVIII. In turn, the ruler gave the statue to the Louvre, where it is on display to this very day. 

6. The loss of her limbs is the fault of the French. 

Kentrotas did find fragments of an arm and a hand when he uncovered the statue in the ruins, but as Venus de Milo was being reassembled, those arms were discarded for having a "rougher" appearance. Modern art historians believe that the variation of finish does not mean those arms did not belong to Venus, but both the arms and the original plinth have been lost since the piece moved to Paris in 1820. 

7. The original plinth was ditched on purpose.

Sight unseen, early 19th century art historians decided the newly discovered Venus must have been the work of Greek artist Praxiteles, and publicized the work as such. This attribution would have placed the piece in the Classical period (5th through 4th centuries BCE), which was more respected artistically than the Hellenistic period. To save face and better promote Venus de Milo—even at the cost of misinforming the public—the plinth was removed before it was presented to the King. 

8. Venus de Milo was meant to make up for a national embarrassment. 

During his conquests, Napoleon Bonaparte had plundered one of the finest examples of Greek sculpture, Venus de' Medici, from Italy. In 1815, the French government returned that beloved sculpture, but in 1820, France embraced the chance to fill the hole its absence left in the French culture and national pride. As such, Venus de Milo was promoted as being even greater than Venus de' Medici upon her Louvre debut. The ploy worked, and the piece was met with almost universal praise from artists and critics.

9. Renoir was not impressed. 

Perhaps the most famous of Venus de Milo's detractors, the celebrated Impressionist painter dismissed this delicate depiction of grace and female beauty as "a big gendarme."

10. She went into hiding during World War II.

By the autumn of 1939, war threatened to descend on Paris, so Venus de Milo along with some other priceless pieces, such as Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's Slaves, were whisked away for safekeeping at various châteaux in the French countryside.

11. She's been robbed! 

Venus is missing more than just her arms. She was originally draped in jewelry including a bracelet, earrings and a headband. These flourishes are long lost, but the holes for fixing them to the piece remain in the marble, giving clues to the missing accessories.

12. She lost her color. 

While it’s easy for today’s art admirers to think of Greek statues as white, the marble was often painted in the style of polychromy. However, no trace of the original paint scheme remains on Venus de Milo today.

13. She's taller than most people. 

Even with her slight slouch, Venus de Milo stands at 6 feet 8 inches tall

14. She could be a copy.

Art historians have noted that Venus de Milo bears a striking resemblance to Aphrodite of Capua, which is a Roman era copy of a possibly late 4th century BCE bronze Greek original. That would be at least 170 years before Alexandros carved his goddess, leading some to speculate that both statues are actually replicas of an older statue.

15. Today she's admired for her imperfection. 

The missing arms of Venus de Milo have been so much more than the source of numerous art historian lectures, debates, and essays. Their absence has also been an accidental invitation to the world to imagine how they might be positioned, what they might hold, and who this would make her. Unexpectedly, her missing arms are what lend the statue her beauty. 

In 2015, The Guardian's Jonathan Jones explained the piece's appeal thusly, "The Venus de Milo is an accidental surrealist masterpiece. Her lack of arms makes her strange and dreamlike. She is perfect but imperfect, beautiful but broken—the body as a ruin. That sense of enigmatic incompleteness has transformed an ancient work of art into a modern one."

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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