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Only Seventeen: Nadya Rusheva

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Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Nadya Rusheva (1952-1969). The Mongolian-born Russian illustrator died just a month past her 17th birthday, yet she managed to produce at least 10,000 drawings in her short life. While Rusheva is not well-known in the U.S. (her Wikipedia entry is just two sentences), she has a devout following in Russia.

1. Like most children, Nadya Rusheva began drawing around the age of 5. It wasn't until she was 7, though, that her family began to take her artistic endeavors seriously. She began to paint every day, and once drew 36 illustrations of "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" in a single evening while her father read the story to her.

2. Rusheva reportedly made no preparatory drawings or sketches, nor even erased much. According to the artist herself, "I live the life of those I draw. I first see them"¦ they appear on paper as watermarks, and I need to do something to lead around them"¦" She brought her characters to life in clean, flowing lines.

3. In 1964, Rusheva's works were first exhibited in the offices of the opposition magazine Yunost (Youth); the magazine also published her illustrations for the first time shortly after. Over the course of the next 5 years, Rusheva had 15 personal exhibitions around Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine. According to an expert at the Pushkin museum, "People queued for hours to see her drawings. Back in those times they were a gulp of fresh air, a portion of intellectual and spiritual food."

4. Rusheva is most famous for her illustrations of Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Originally banned in the Soviet Union, the book contains two parallel stories: the story of Master and Margarita and the story of Jesus Christ's final days as written by the Master. Rusheva's illustrations of Margarita are said to bear a strong resemblance to Bulgakov's wife, whom Rusheva never met. Yelena Bulgakova later said, "I wish I knew this amazing and subtle creature, Nadya Rusheva."

5. Academics and fellow artists have praised the young illustrator, saying, "Her paintings went far beyond the limits of children's creativity"¦" and that "her sharp mind penetrated into the depths of human spirit."

6. Rusheva's first name has been said to mean "hope" or "living eternally." Her name and spirit will live on as close to home as the Caucasus and as far away as outer space: a pass in the Caucasus mountains is named after her, as is Asteroid 3516 Rusheva.

Larger versions of the two Rusheva illustrations above are available: left and right.

Fans should check out this portrait of Rusheva; this collection of personal photos of Rusheva; her Master and Margarita illustrations; this LiveJournal group (in Russian) dedicated to her; the Rusheva museum (in Russian); the collection of her work at Mini Beautiful World; the "You, as a First Love..." documentary on Rusheva; and the only English fan site for Rusheva.

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]