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Creatively Speaking: Isobella Jade's memoir

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It's a new year, so I thought I'd start by introducing a new feature I'm calling Creatively Speaking, in which I interview all sorts of artists for a first-hand look at how they go about creating their work.

IsoApple5 copy.jpgLet's kick it off here with Isobella Jade, who is getting national attention these days as the model who wrote a memoir without the use of computer. (Let me clarify: without the use of her own computer.) Her new book, Almost 5'4", which chronicles her experiences as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business, was written almost entirely in an Apple store in—where else?—the Big Apple.

It may very well be the start of a new breed: books written in public spaces on public computers. Follow the jump for my exclusive interview with Jade and find out exactly how she did it. And watch for the next installment of Creatively Speaking coming real soon.

jade.jpgDI: So now that Almost 5'4" is out there have you made enough off of it to buy your own computer?

IJ: Not yet, but I am making enough to pay the bills and hopefully by 2009 I can get an iMac or a MacBook. I wrote my book on a 17inch iMac so maybe getting one of those would be symbolic and fun and I like how Apple has made the iMac, and i-products about the inner potential and creative in all of us.

DI: When you were writing the book at Apple, how did you save your files?

IJ: I saved the files each day to my Yahoo account, email form. I still have most of them saved.
The Apple store did bring some tragic moments though while writing the book...I did have a moment when the Internet froze on the iMac I was working on while writing. Which meant I couldn't save my document to my email and I thought about saving it to a folder on the desktop or making one somewhere discreet so no one would take it. After I pouted to a store employee about my catastrophe he told me I could buy a CD at the store and then download it, but my funds were limited at the time. So instead I called a film director I knew who lived in SoHo and even with a broken leg, in his crutches he brought me a CD and I was able to burn my document on the disk and save one of the best parts of my book. I believe once you write something, you can never fully write it again the same, so I wasn't going to leave the store without it. And yes I did cry, stomp my foot, and swear a few times over it. It was extremely dramatic at the time because I also realized at that moment how much the store meant to me, what I was doing, and that even if the store didn't know it, the store was my means to survival sort of, and it was like I saw my desperation on the computer screen waiting for the Internet to be turned on.

DI: Are you a MAC person or was it that the Apple store was just close to your apartment?

IJ: I grew up on an Apple II, well, only in the summers. My mother, a teacher, raised us the best she could with spaghetti O's and garage sale clothes and summer felt more like Christmas when she would bring home a barrowed Apple computer. I loved to play the program called StickyBear and Oregon Trail on it. Also during my freshman year at college I was studying advertising and graphic design and I used an iMac a lot, and I think Apple gives off an artistic feeling of chance, it is for the daring, the serious, the bold, the dreamers.
I discovered the Apple Store while walking around SoHo in mid February 2005, and started writing my book in early November 2005 when my apartment lease ended and I was couch hoping and living with what I could carry. So I didn't exactly have a stable home while I started writing the book. Since the store was where I went to check my email, submitted to electronic modeling jobs, it made sense to start writing there.
I felt comfortable being there. It became a reason to get up in the morning, my first daily stop, an office, with coffee in hand while using the computers for hours on end, because no one ever kicked you out. It was a gift. I even considered the computer I worked on most often "mine." I finished writing the book in late February 2006.

DI: I've always found it easier to write in public places, like on the subway, longhand. Did you find the noise in the store a help or a hindrance?

IJ: Yes most definitely a help. I don't think writing it in a library would have been the same. Right now my book is in raw format, I did have an editor but what you would read if you bought the book today is my Apple store version of the book; it is very lively, and probably contains a typo or two. It is as alive as the day I wrote it in the store.

DI: I think it would be awesome if Apple featured you in one of their commercials. Has anyone approached you yet?

IJ: Not yet, but that would be really fun and I would love to be a spokesmodel for Apple or the Apple Stores especially since I love the products, and the mindset of the social store, and the net connected products helped to make my biggest dream come true. I would love to share my story in a commercial form with a "create your own story with an Apple," edge to it.

DI: After you finished the book, I hear you gave a reading at the Apple store. Probably the first-ever reading of a manuscript at one of their stores -- more proof that it's becoming a hangout/meeting place. What was that whole experience like?

IJ: That was on April 15th 2006, and I wasn't totally sure about publishing the book yet, what to do next or how to do it, so the reading was also proof that people would be interested in my story because some were asking for it after the reading. When you write a book about yourself, there is always that awkward question: "Are my personal life stories able to affect someone else?" I found the answer to be yes after the reading. The book is more about my modeling experiences than the Apple Store, but telling pieces of my tale to about 30 strangers at the store, (where I wrote it) proved that I had a story worth publishing. I started the reading with a 2 minute video I created that summed up the book and it was a unique innovative way to enter my reading and I spoke and read for a whole hour.

DI: What was the strangest thing that happened to you while you were working on the book there?

IJ: In mid-type a kid next to me spilled his soda and I saved the spill from hitting the keyboard. That, and before my reading a couple of teenage girls were next to me talking about a model who was going to be doing a reading at the store, not knowing I was standing next to them.

DI: What do you have coming up next?

IJ: I'll be featured in next month's Mac Directory Magazine, posing with an iMac. After self publishing Almost 5'4", the book's world rights have been signed to The Friday Project in the U.K and a commercial version will be available in 2009.

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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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