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11 Rejections that are older than John McCain's Rejection

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By John Green

For anyone paying attention to the recent headlines, the media's been making a big to-do of John McCain's editorial getting rejected by the folks at the New York Times. We don't know just how amazing his editorial was, or whether there was talk of optioning the film rights, but we do know rejection. Here are a couple stories to give John McCain hope for the next draft.

Proust Gets Dissed:

After submitting his magnum opus Remembrance of Things Past to an important publisher, Marcel Proust received the following response from an editor: "I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep." English lit majors everywhere have been asking themselves that same question ever since Proust did get his entire masterwork published, at his own expense, in 1927.

e. e. cummings' Mom steps in:

By the early 1930s, e. e. cummings had established his literary credibility with a novelized memoir called Th e Enormous Room and several books of experimental poetry. Having fi nished 71 new poems, he decided to submit them for publication. Th e book was rejected by 14 diff erent publishers. Finally, in 1935, cummings's mom subsidized the book's publication. He called it No Thanks, and where the title page would have been, he wrote TO and then the names of every publisher who'd rejected him, typed out in the shape of an urn.

Fitzgerald's Rush Job:

In 1917, F. Scott Fitzgerald dropped out of Princeton to enlist in World War I. Already committed to becoming a writer, Fitzgerald worried he'd die in battle and the world would never know about his talent, so during his military training stateside, he dashed off a novel called The Romantic Egotist. It was well-received, although ultimately rejected, by an editor at Scribner's. As it happened, the war ended before Fitzgerald could be sent to Europe—allowing him to write plenty of other classics.

Toole dies, wins Pulitzer:

When John Kennedy Toole (1937"“1969) finished his first novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, he was convinced it was a comic masterpiece. He sent it away to Simon & Schuster, who eventually rejected the book on the grounds that it "isn't really about anything." Toole became despondent after that single rejection (if only he'd seen the sidebar above) and ended up committing suicide. But the novel was eventually published thanks to his mom, who got the writer Walker Percy to read Dunces. Percy loved it—and 22 years after Toole's death, his masterpiece won the Pulitzer Prize.

And a few people who were rejected multiple times:

  • Garnering rejections is a badge of honor in some corners of the publishing world, but few will match the purple hearts won by these brave souls:
  • Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by 26 publishers.
  • Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H was turned down 21 times.
  • James Joyce's modernist classic Dubliners was rejected by 22 publishers.
  • Dr. Seuss' To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected by 27 publishers.
  • Between magazine pitches, short stories, and books, Jack London claimed to have received 600 rejections.
  • British mystery novelist John Creasey (1908"“1973) garnered a staggering 743 rejection slips—all for books! What's more remarkable is that Creasey went on to write and publish at least 562 novels (he lost count) in his 40-year career, making him one of the most prolific novelists in history.

Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from mental_floss' Genius Instruction Manual by our friend (and YA superstar) John Green. His much-anticipated 3rd novel Paper Towns comes out this Fall.

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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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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]