CLOSE
Original image

The Quick 10: Winnie-the-Pooh Particulars

Original image

It was 83 years ago this week that A.A. Milne's classic Winnie-the-Pooh first hit bookshelves everywhere. Even if you think Disney's Pooh is passé (I myself am not a fan), you have to admit that the original story is a classic. Here are a few facts about one of the world's most famous bears.

pooh1. All of the animals portrayed in the story were inspired by Christopher Robin Milne's (A.A. Milne's son) stuffed animals, except for two: Owl and Rabbit, whom Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard created to round out the menagerie. Sadly, Christopher Robin lost the Roo stuffed animal (the baby kangaroo) in an apple orchard in the 1930s, so it's not with the display of original plush dolls (pictured).
2. It's kind of surprising that as many of the stuffed animals lasted as long as they did "“ not only were they well-loved by Milne's son, but they were also apparently well-loved by the family dog. I can tell you that if my dachshunds had gotten a hold of those they would have ripped all of the stuffing out of them and then turned the "carcass" inside out, so we should be thankful that the Milnes didn't own wiener dogs.

3. There's been some speculation over the years that Pooh's last name is Sanders, as in "Winnie-the-Pooh Sanders," because he has the name "Sanders" written over the door of his house. As far as we know, this isn't true. After stating the Pooh lived under the name of Sanders, the book clarifies, "It means he had the name over the door in gold letters and Pooh lived under it." Most experts take this to mean that the previous resident was named Sanders and merely left his mark on the abode. We don't know who the mysterious Mr. Sanders was; however, there is one unconfirmed explanation: a real-life man by the name of Frank Sanders had a printing press that printed some of Milne's work and was a friend of the man who illustrated the Pooh books.

russia4. Winnie the Pooh is a pretty big deal in Russia "“ he starred in three animated short stories in the late "˜60s and early "˜70s - but he looks much different than both the animated Disney version and the version illustrated by Ernest Shepard. That's the Russian Pooh to the left.
5. Winnie-the-Pooh is the original spelling. Disney took out the hyphens when they made their animated series. Obviously those were huge successes, thus the spelling without the hyphens became more commonly known.

6. A first edition Winnie-the-Pooh book can go for anywhere from $700 for a book in decent condition to nearly $5,000 for a "presentation copy" signed book.

7. Hundred-Acre Wood is a real place in England. It's based on a place called Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Many of the landmarks found in the Pooh books can be found there, including Poohsticks Bridget, Galleon's Lap (called Gill's Lap in real life), Roo's Sandpit and Heffalump Trap. In fact, in 2001, a 10-year-old boy took the "fake" map drawn by Ernest Shepard and navigated his way around Ashdown Forest for a documentary.

8. Winnie-the-Pooh has been released in many languages, including Esperanto and Latin. The Latin version (Winnie ille Pu) actually made it on to the New York Times bestseller list in 1960, making it the first-ever foreign language book to make it to the list. To this day, it's the only Latin book that has ever charted.

NPG x36166, Christopher Robin Milne9. The real Christopher Robin didn't much appreciate his fame. When he went away to school, his schoolmates taunted him and recited passages from his father's stories to him, which made the younger Milne quite embarrassed of his association with the tribe of stuffed animals. He later wrote an autobiography about how difficult his life was, saying, "It seemed to me almost that my father had got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and left me nothing but empty fame". Maybe it's because my father has never written one of the most beloved children's books of all time about me, but to me, Christopher Robin's statement sounds a little, um"¦ selfish? Spoiled? Ungrateful? What do you think?

10. You can read about how Winnie-the-Pooh got his name here (and about a few other children's lit characters that had real-life counterparts). The original Pooh bear was purchased at Harrod's and was named Edward Bear.

Are you a fan? Or are you totally sick of the Pooh overload Disney has forced down everyone's throats in recent years? Whether you love the pudgy guy or would rather see him develop a nasty honey allergy, let us know in the comments.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES