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7 of Literature's Most Desirable Leading Men

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What did women do before we had People magazine to define ultimate attractiveness and tell us which leading man is the Sexiest Man Alive? Since the sexiness of said men is debatable and so many more worthy contenders are passed over, I suggest adding fictional men to the ballot. Literary characters are timeless; they never age, lose their looks or compromise their reputation. A self-proclaimed book nerd, I maintain that the most attractive men exist in the world of stories. Obviously I haven't read every book ever written and I prefer certain genres and characters, but let me nominate my top seven über-attractive men from literature. (Warning: Some spoilers ahead.)

1. Mr. Darcy (from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

Ladies, regardless of how good Colin Firth looks in the infamous wet, white shirt, we know that it's the real Fitzwilliam Darcy who captures the heart of every Jane Austen fan at some point. He's deliciously dark. He broods. And yes, he's proud. And all this makes Mr. Darcy my number one leading man. What do I love most about Darcy? Besides the aforementioned brooding, which I cannot resist, his attractiveness increases with his willingness to go against tradition and societal pressures to love and marry the witty and independent heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. Plus, all those repressed emotions! One of my favorite Darcy moments comes when Elizabeth and that horrid Caroline Bingley take a walk around the room and ask Darcy if he would like to join them. His flirtatious response?

"He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in the quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book...

"You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; if the first, I would be completely in your way, and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire."

2. Gilbert Blythe (from the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery)

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Growing up bookish with a love for writing, I was convinced that Anne Shirley and I would be bosom friends if only I were Canadian and living in the fictional series. But although I wished for Anne's friendship, I wanted to steal Gil away for myself. He loves her from the beginning (red hair and all), gives her his teaching job so she can live at home, resiliently endures her rejection of his marriage proposal, and inspires Anne to write her first published book! And even though it takes her longer to realize his perfection, he waits until she realizes it's not sunbursts or marble halls that she wants. It's Gil: the perfect man for the chronically romantic.

3. Almanzo Wilder (from Farmer Boy and other books by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

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Quiet yet courageous farmer boy Almanzo Wilder won my childhood heart as he won over prairie girl Laura Ingalls. A hardworking farmer who loved horses and carpentry, Almanzo proves his extraordinary bravery and noble character when he risks his life traveling on foot in a blizzard to look for wheat--which no one is certain is even available. He survives and saves the Ingalls family and the town! And while courting Laura, Almanzo picks her up in his carriage when she finishes teaching school. What a gentleman! Eventually, he suffers partial paralysis resulting from a nasty bout of diphtheria and always walks with a limp afterwards, but that only makes Almanzo all the nobler and totally swoon-worthy.

4. Mr. Rochester (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)

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What can I say? Issues are hot, and Edward Rochester has an aura of danger about him and an abundance of issues. The (again) dark and broody hero of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester has a tormented sense of responsibility to care for his crazy wife locked in the attic, custody of a bratty French girl who isn't his biological child, Thornfield Hall and his name to uphold, and a burgeoning love for Jane to deal with. Perhaps it's just his dark, mysterious nature, or that he tries to do right, even risking his life, but lustful Mr. Rochester is a tortured soul. What woman could resist?

5. Edmond Dantès (from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas)

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Better known as The Count of Monte Cristo in the book by Dumas, Edmond Dantès starts out as a dashing young sailor betrothed to the beautiful Mercédès. After being set up as a traitor to the crown, Dantès is sentenced to rot in prison and loses his fiancé to her jealous cousin! To seek out revenge and clear his name, Dantès reinvents himself and assumes six other aliases, along the way charming just about everyone in Paris with his ruggedly handsome looks and a smile both angelic and diabolic. A good man with a dark past? Quelle mysteriouse!

6. George Emerson (from A Room With a View by E.M. Forster)

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When I travel abroad, I never meet dashing, disturbed Englishmen when there is a mix-up with our hotel rooms. Why is that? When proper, young Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (she even brings a chaperone!) travels abroad in Italy, fortuitously she encounters the rogue George Emerson on numerous occasions: at a hotel, at an art museum and of course, while witnessing a murder in the streets, after which he catches her when she faints. When they meet accidentally on a lush Italian hillside, George personifies the romance associated with Italy:

"George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her."

Forbidden love considered socially irresponsible by Edwardian Englanders? Sign me up!

7. Enjolras (from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)

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Forget that lovesick pansy Marius. I prefer the charismatic leader of the student revolution, Enjolras. Just the sound of his name makes me want to quit my job and fight for France. A devout believer in democracy and equality, Enjolras's ragtag followers look up to him in awe, even the most cynical describing their fierce leader as a "greek god." Alas, ever the hero, Enjolras ends up a martyr for the cause, and that kind of conviction and passion makes my mouth water. Vive la France!

Although I mentioned only seven ideal mates here, I know I have more literary crushes and you do as well. Share the wealth in the comments while I catch up on my (re)reading.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

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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