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Really Good Grief: The Wonderfully Tragic Life of Charles Schulz

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There are plenty of terrific articles online that explore Charles Schulz's wonderful life. They talk of how many awards he won (from Emmys to Congressional Gold Medals), and how he donated great amounts of money to charity (everything from building local skating rinks to to heading up the fundraising for a national D-Day memorial). They explore how wealthy his strip made him (in 1989 Forbes estimated that he was making $32 million a year), and they inevitably touch on his religious views (he considered himself a "secular human" and taught Sunday School). In fact, generally they talk about how full and rich his life was.

This article deals with none of that. Instead we're concentrating on Charles Schulz's wonderfully miserable life. And specifically, after suffering a very bad day, 8 things that only seem to make him more endearing to me!

1. He had a lot of bad hair days

one.jpg When Charles Schulz was a kid, he always got his hair snipped at his father's barbershop. And though the haircuts were free, anecdotage reports that they came with plenty of grief: Like whenever a "real customer" walked in, Schulz was made to get up and wander around with an embarrassing half hair-cut. At least, until the customer left.

2. He came "this close" a lot

That wasn't the only rain cloud hovering over little Charlie's existence. As a child, he was once super-excited to be in line at a movie theater because they promised candy bars to the first 100 kids to buy tickets. Of course, Schulz happened to be the 101st.

3. He disliked high school (especially the yearbook)

schulz-lilfolks.jpg As a 136-pounder lugging a 6 foot frame, Schulz's physical awkwardness didn't help his high school career. He was quoted in the Star Tribune saying "I don't know which was worse - the Army or Central High School." The worst blow, however, came right before graduation when his art teacher persuaded him to draw some scenes for the school's annual. "I was delighted and waited anxiously the last couple days of school until the yearbook came out - with none of my cartoons."

More stories, and your chance to win t-shirts... all after the break!

4. He didn't think he could draw

Despite teaching at the Art Instruction Schools, and earning heaps of accolades through out his career, Charles Schulz wished he could do fine art and be Andrew Wyeth. In fact, at 75, he was quoted as saying "My goal in life is to meet Andrew Wyeth."

5. His dog was nuts

link.spike.schulz.jpg The inspiration for Snoopy was the Schulz's insane black and white pup, Spike. The "hunting dog" scoured for pins, tacks and razor blades and was generally uncontrollable. In fact, Spike would often race away from the house anytime a door was cracked open, and it was only his love for going on car rides that brought him back. Any time Spike made an escape, Charles would have to run and start honking his father's car horn repeatedly to lure the dog back.

6. He hated the name "Peanuts"

Originally, Schulz's comics were titled Li'l Folks. According to Wikipedia, much to Schulz's dismay, his cartoon syndicate changed the strip's name to avoid confusion with Li'l Abner and another comic called Little Folks. Judging from a 1987 interview, Schulz still hadn't forgiven them. "It's totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity — and I think my humor has dignity".

7. He never got over The Little Red-Haired Girl

320px-ItsYourFirstKiss.jpg While his wife Jeannie was certainly a fire-cracker (at 50, she started taking trapeze lessons!), and her comments often made the strip (like calling Schulz her "Sweet Baboo"), it was the cartoonist's first love that inspired Charlie Brown's love interest. The Little Red-Haired Girl character was based on Donna Johnson, the first girl Schulz proposed to (and was rejected by). Naturally, he had a tough time getting over the experience. "You never do get over your first love," Schulz said. "More than having your cartoons rejected or three-putting the 18th green, the whole of you is rejected when a woman says: `You're not worth it.'" While he never won the red-head's heart, fans of the "I just like you as a friend" rejection line should know that it actually worked for the pair. The two managed to stay friends years after the proposal debacle.

8. And apparently all that misery was good for him

WindowClingPeanutsFootball.jpg As a man who claimed "You can't create humor out of happiness," it's no surprise that Schulz once wrote, "I'm astonished at the number of people who write to me saying, 'Why can't you create happy stories for us? Why does Charlie Brown always have to lose? Why can't you let him kick the football?' Well, there is nothing funny about the person who gets to kick the football." Oh, you're a good man Charlie Schulz.

>>UPDATE: PLEASE NOTE THE CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. Feel free to keep sharing stories if you'd like, though. And congratulations to Mrs. DJS, Natasha and Kathy A. for making us laugh (and feel better about our day). Good luck, and good grief!

Previously on mental_floss:

15 Reasons Mr. Rogers Was The Best Neighbor Ever
Where Ten Legendary Cartoons Got Their Names
15 Award-Winning Facts About The Nobel Prize
Seven Curses That Seem To Be Doing Their Jobs
Ten Epic Halloween Costumes

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]