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5 Theories on Why We Dye Eggs for Easter

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Every year, as Easter approaches, people across the globe hardboil eggs and dye them brilliant colors. Where did this tradition come from? There's no one answer to that question—in fact, there are many accounts as to how dying eggs became a part of the tradition surrounding the Christian holiday of Easter. Here are five of them. 

1. A Spring Celebration

Eggs were often associated with pagan festivals and celebrations of spring. Eggs were symbolic of rebirth and new life, making them an appropriate part of the celebration of spring and the new life that comes after winter. It was common for eggs to be decorated in conjunction with these spring festivals, and common to see these colored eggs given as gifts to friends and family. The symbolism of rebirth fit well with the spring holiday of Easter, as it is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The practice of decorating eggs and giving them as gifts was adopted by Christians and included in their Easter celebrations.

2. A Mesopotamian Tradition

According to Volume 5 of Donahoe's Magazine, a monthly Catholic-oriented general interest magazine that ran from 1878 to 1908, early Christians in Mesopotamia dyed eggs red to mimic the blood that Christ shed during his crucifixion. The church purportedly took up this tradition and it has continued ever since. 

3. A Royal Tradition

King Edward I of England may also have contributed to the tradition of decorating eggs to celebrate Easter. In the 13th century, Edward I ordered 450 eggs to be colored and decorated with gold-leaf. They were presented as Easter gifts to the rest of the royal household.

4. Mary Magdalene and the Red Egg

In several legends, Mary Magdalene is a key player in the creation of the egg-dying tradition. One version involves Mary Magdalene’s trip to Jesus’ tomb three days after his crucifixion. She carried a basket of cooked eggs to share with the other women who would be mourning at the tomb. When she arrived to find the stone rolled away from the entrance and the tomb empty, the eggs in her basket turned a brilliant shade of red.

Another legend tells of Mary Magdalene going to speak to the Roman Emperor Tiberius after Jesus rose from the dead. She greeted the emperor by saying “Christ is risen.” Tiberius replied, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red,” gesturing to an egg that was, depending on the version of the legend, on his table or held by Mary herself. As soon as the emperor said this—you guessed it—the egg turned red.

5. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Red Egg

Some Eastern European legends credit not Mary Magdalene, but Jesus' mother Mary, as the source of the egg-dying tradition. Mary was present at her son’s crucifixion on Good Friday and, according to these legends, she brought eggs with her. In one version, blood from Jesus’ wounds drops on the eggs, coloring them red. Another version of the legend tells of Mary weeping, begging the soldiers at the cross to be less cruel to her son. She gives these soldiers eggs and, as her tears fall on them, they are spotted with brilliant color.

This post originally appeared in 2013.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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