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The Quick 10: 10 Facts About Charles Addams

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Happy Birthday to Charles Addams! You guys might already know that I have a love of the macabre, so old Chas is right up my alley. I loved the old show, of course, and even enjoyed the Raul Julia/Anjelica Huston revival of the "˜90s. But the original cartoons are the best, I think. Anyway, here are a few freaky facts (OK"¦ some of them are downright tame) about Mr. Addams in honor of what would have been his 97th birthday.

oil1. Many of the gags from the series and the movies are taken right from Addams' old comics. For instance, in the movie, when the family prepares to pour boiling oil on Christmas carolers instead of enjoying their cheery tunes, that's a throwback to an old cartoon that first appeared in The New Yorker.
2. Charles and his third wife, Tee, got married in a pet cemetery to reflect their ghoulish sense of humor.
3. He was close friends with Ray Bradbury. They met in New York when Bradbury was 26 and Addams was about 34. Bradbury said he saw a painting that Addams did for Mademoiselle and knew they were kindred spirits at once. And they were "“ they got on so well that they planned to do a book together, with Bradbury writing the text and Addams illustrating. Wouldn't that have been fantastic? But they couldn't find the funding for it and ended up going their separate ways career-wise. Addams created his family, and Ray Bradbury created the Elliott Family.
4. There were lots of rumors about his personal life, including that he slept in a coffin, responded to fan mail on paper with the letterhead of a mental institution, and loved to wear a monogrammed straitjacket.

But if any of this is true, you'd never know it from looking at the man. In public, he wore very dapper Brooks Brothers suits and neatly-styled silver hair and was mistaken for Walter Matthau more than once.
addams show5. Even if he didn't dress the part, he decorated his apartment in exactly the manner you would expect. He collected crossbows and had them displayed everywhere; he was also very proud of a suit of armor he had purchased for a mere $700. Other interesting objects including a "drying-out table" that had once been used for drying out bodies, a sewing basket made out of an armadillo, a human thigh bone and gilded human skulls. He said fans sent him a lot of the stuff "“ "they want me to be a man who likes shin bones," he said. "People must feel I need a skull."
6. He was quite the ladies' man. He was married three times, and in between marriages dated the likes of Greta Garbo, Jackie Kennedy and Joan Fontaine.
7. He loved to perpetuate the dark and creepy rumors about himself, whether they were true or not. He liked to tell reporters that fans gifted him with their severed fingers, human remains and cow organs. He once gave an interview and said that he woke up and felt like screaming and decided that no one would hear him. "So I let out a long, thin scream and felt much better," he said.
addams8. He opened his door one day and found Alfred Hitchcock standing there. Hitch said, "I've just come to see you in your natural balliwick." And from then on they were good friends. If you've ever noticed that the Bates house in Psycho looks suspiciously like an Addams creation, it's partially because of the friendship with Addams. It's also been said that the Edward Hopper painting House on the Railroad inspired both the Addams' house and the Bates mansion. I think the similarities are pretty clear!
9. Charles was distantly related to John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Sam Adams, even though the spelling of his name got changed over the years. He was also related to Jane Addams.

barbara10. I can't find a picture of her, but multiple descriptions say his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, was a dead ringer (pardon the pun) for Morticia. Edit! Intrepid _flosser Carolyn found this great picture of Addams' first wife here. Carolyn, I bow to your research skills! And check out the picture of his second wife as well (it's the third picture on the page). Did Addams have a "type," or what?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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