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25 Things You Should Know About Monaco

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There's more to Monaco than race cars and a luxe casino. Read on for more about this tiny independent nation.

1. Since gaining its independence from the Republic of Genoa in 1297, Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family, making that line the oldest ruling family in Europe. In 2002, the constitutional monarchy signed a treaty with France allowing it to remain an independent nation, even if the family should stop producing heirs.

2. At just 0.75 square miles, Monaco is the second smallest country in the world. (The smallest, of course, is Vatican City.) Monaco's total land area is about the size of New York City’s Central Park. It takes just under an hour (about 56 minutes, actually) to walk the width of Monaco.

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3.
Although you'll see both Monacan and Monegasque listed as acceptable demonyms for residents of Monaco, they prefer the latter.

4. However you refer to them, those who live in Monaco have a life expectancy of almost 90 years—one of the longest in the world. Meanwhile, the literacy rate hovers around 100 percent.

5. Despite its small size, there are several higher education institutions within the country, including the Rainier III Academy of Music and the Nursing School at the Princess Grace Hospital Complex.

6. Monaco’s red-and-white flag looks exactly like Indoensia’s except there’s one slight difference: Indonesia’s is wider. Yes, that’s it.

7. The city’s biggest attraction is the Casino de Monte Carlo. Citizens, however, are not allowed to gamble—or even enter!—the establishment. Its most notable, and perhaps most frequent, visitor: James Bond. The international spy hits the casino in Never Say Never Again, Golden Eye, and Casino Royale.

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8.
Hollywood has long had a love affair with the tiny principality. In fact, more than 50 films have taken place in Monaco, including Iron Man 2 and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

9. Grace Kelly first met Prince Rainier III at a photoshoot during the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. He proposed (with a 10.47 carat ring!) during a diplomatic trip to the States later that year.

10. …In keeping with tradition, however, Kelly's Philadelphia-based family had to pay the royal family a whopping $2 million dowry.

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11.
Kelly's 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier—watched by an estimated 30 million on television—was outdone by the birth of their first son, Albert II, who currently rules Monaco. The occasion was marked with a 21-gun salute and the day after was declared a national holiday. Gambling at the casino was put on hold, and everyone was treated to free champagne.

12. Prince Albert II attended Amherst College in the U.S. where he studied a number of subjects, including political science and economics. He has also played on Monaco's national soccer team and competed in three Olympic games as part of Monaco's bobsled team.

13. In 2011, Albert married Charlene Wittstock, an Olympic swimmer from South Africa. Three years later, the couple welcomed twins: daughter Gabriella and son Jacques. Although Gabriella was technically born first, Prince Jacques was declared next in line for the throne because priority is still given to male children. (Had both twins been girls, the eldest would have been declared the heir.)

14. Monaco's National Museum is the perfect stop for anyone with an appreciation of creepy dolls: the institution houses thousands of 19th century toys, as well as a number of automatons. Wind some of the dolls up, and they'll play the piano and even sigh.

15. Another must-see: The country's Musée Oceanographique, one of the largest oceanographic museums in the world. Its aquarium contains approximately 6000 specimens, and its collection underwent a recent renovation by artist Mark Dion, who modeled the new display after 19th century curio cabinets.

16. Last summer, visitors to Monaco's Grimaldi Forum were treated to a dining experience as gorgeous as delicious. Every item at the pop-up Pantone Cafe, from the napkins to the coffee, was labeled with its corresponding Pantone color code.

17. Monaco stopped collecting income tax back in 1869 because the country's casino raked in more than enough cash to sustain government operations.

18. Monaco has the largest police force in the world per capita. Not surprisingly, it also has the most millionaires and billionaires per capita.

19. The writer Somerset Maugham once described Monaco as a "sunny place for shady people," but its reputation may be undeserved. Contrary to popular belief, Monaco is not much of a tax haven for the wealthy; despite the lack of income tax, residents are charged a 19.6 percent value-added tax on goods and services, and corporations must pony up a third of their total profits.

20. Every September the city hosts the Monaco Yacht Show, where more than 500 companies exhibit the newest yachts on the market, including so-called super yachts. The super yachts on display have only gotten more, well, super over the years; the average length of the massive craft exhibited last year was 154 feet.

21. In the spring, there’s the Monaco Grand Prix, a Formula One race held every year since 1929. Drivers tackle the narrow course filled with elevation changes, tight corners and tunnels. If you're looking to catch the event, be forewarned that there are no cheap seats; Tickets can go for as much as $2750.

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22.
When the Grand Prix is in full swing, the Hotel de Paris sells close to 2000 bottles of champagne.

23. That bubbly is housed in the hotel's wine cellar, one of the most legendary in the world. The collection, which dates back to 1874, boasts 450,000 bottles, including 55 different kinds of champagne.

24. At night, tourists clamber into Jimmy’z nightclub. Known as the Temple of Clubbing, the spot draws in American, Italian, and Parisian jet-setters and international celebrities, including Bono and George Clooney.

25. The city’s beloved football team, AS Monaco, have won seven titles in the top French league. The players wear red and white uniforms and are often referred to as Les Rouge et Blanc (the red and whites).

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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