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The Bedroom Quirks of 10 Great Authors

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You know that Shakespeare, James Joyce and Lord Byron were geniuses when it came to their ways with words, but as anyone who knows a writer can tell you, scribes frequently come with some serious quirks. I'm reading Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg, and the secrets definitely come out. So, without further ado, I give you 10 intimate quirks of some of the finest writers ever.

1. William Shakespeare liked to swoop in on his friends' women. He overheard his friend Richard Burbage making plans with a lady one night. Richard was going to show up for the secret rendezvous and call himself "Richard III" at the door so he would be admitted to her room. Shakespeare hightailed it to her house and gave the password. True to witty form, when Richard showed up, Shakespeare sent word down that William the Conquerer came before Richard III.

2. Lord Byron kept lists of his lovers and apparently slept with more than 250 women in one year alone. Lady Caroline Lamb called him "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know." He slept with her, of course, and her cousin. And supposedly his own half sister as well. And he commemorated each one in a very, um, special way: he snipped a bit of hair (not scalp hair, people) from each conquest and saved it in a little envelope marked with the appropriate name. Until 1980 or so, these locks of love were still housed at Byron's publishing house, but they're unaccounted for these days.

3. Leo Tolstoy's quirk was basically exhibitionism, I suppose. When he married 18-year-old Sofia Behrs, he made her spend their wedding night reading his diaries. Maybe not so bad, you say, but his diaries contained detailed accounts of all of the women he had slept with throughout his lifetime. Sofia was totally not into it - her diary account the day afterward called his writing "filth" and reflected how disgusted she was.

yeats4. W.B. Yeats had a little trouble, um, performing.

So he had an operation that would surely improve his stamina - he had monkey glands inserted into his scrotum. He declared that it not only did wonders for his sex life, it also rejuvenated his creativity. It made him the subject of much ridicule, though - Irish writer Frank O'Connor said it was like putting the engine of a Cadillac into a Ford. Ouch.

5. H.G. Wells was probably the biggest proponent of free love before it was called free love. He was married twice and cheated repeatedly on both of his wives without any remorse whatsoever. In his autobiography, he said, "I have done what I pleased, so that every bit of sexual impulse in me has expressed itself." One of his lovers said the reason this balding, overweight man was so irresistible was because he gave off a delicious scent of honey.

Also, this has nothing to do with sex, but this story cracked me up so I thought I would share it. He was once at a party and took a liking to another man's hat, so he just took it from the stand. The man had written his address in the brim, I suppose in case he lost it, so Wells wrote to the man and said, "I stole your hat. I shall keep your hat. Whenever I look inside it I shall think of you. I take off your hat to you!"

joyce6. James Joyce was a totally randy old man. He wrote boatloads of extremely graphic love letters to his lover, Nora Barnacle, and seemed to really enjoy two things specifically: being spanked, and women's farts. Yeah. In one letter to her, he sang the praises of her "arse full of farts." But he was well aware of his quirks - when a fan once asked to "kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses," Joyce declined. He explained that the same hand had done lots of other things as well.

7. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish. He wouldn't let anyone see his own naked feet, but women's feet made him wild. Apparently he had a particular prostitute he went to who had such lovely feet that he returned to her just so he could see them.

8. Ayn Rand basically had an open relationship with her husband. Although she was married to Frank O'Connor, she set her sights on her friend Nathaniel Branden, who was also married. Ayn kindly told Branden's wife that the two of them were going to start sleeping together, and then they did. His wife divorced him after a few years, and Nathaniel started seeing one of Ayn's fans. She freaked out and publicly denounced him. She and Frank O'Connor remained married until his death in 1979.

kafka9. Franz Kafka was a Never Nude long before Tobias Funke came into existence. He was, by all accounts, extremely self conscious and unhappy with his appearance. Nude spas were all the rage at one point during his lifetime, and although he went because he believed it would be beneficial to his health, he refused to remove his swim trunks. Kafka is said to have loathed sex and even once said, "Coitus is the punishment for the happiness of being together." That didn't seem to stop him from having quite the series of one-nighters, though.

wilde10. Oh, Oscar Wilde. Where to begin. Although married to Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two children, Oscar had innumerable affairs and dalliances with both sexes - and he really preferred younger boys. His first well-known major affair was a year after his wedding, with the then-underage Robert Ross, which was the first of many rendezvous with boys in their mid-to-late teens. Although he was later imprisoned for "gross misconduct" and his De Profundis seemed apologetic, he was soon back to his old ways. According to his old lover Lord Alfred Douglas (that's him in the picture with Wilde), "He was hand in glove with all the little boys on the Boulevard. He never attempted to conceal it." And in a letter to Robert Ross, whom Wilde maintained a friendship with, Wilde wrote,"Today I bade good-bye, with tears and one kiss, to the beautiful Greek boy... he is the nicest boy you ever introduced to me."

Although they separated and she changed her name, Constance Lloyd and Oscar Wilde never divorced and remained on good terms, despite the fact that she distanced herself from him and his sordid affairs.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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