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All About Anne (of Green Gables)

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Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery's first book about Anne, the redheaded orphan of Canada's Prince Edward Island, and her misadventures. But this year, Anne fans are in for a treat.

This week, the Anne of Green Gables canon (the Anne-on?) is expanding: Publisher Penguin is releasing the complete version of The Blythes Are Quoted, Montgomery's very last installment in the Anne series. The book, dropped off at her publisher's on the day of the author's death in 1942, was published in part in 1974, lacking about 100 pages of stories and poems. This version includes 15 "new" short stories about Anne, as well as poetry ostensibly by the heroine and her son Walter, a soldier who died during World War I. The book is also a bit of a departure from the light-hearted optimism that marked Anne's other appearances—this one includes references to some seriously dark subjects, such as murder, revenge, death, despair, bitterness, and reflects Montgomery's own opposition to war.

With that in mind, here are a few facts about everyone's favorite redheaded orphan (no, the other redheaded orphan) and the woman who created her:

Anne of Green Gables was the first of L.M. Montgomery's books about Anne Shirley, a lonely redheaded orphan who comes to live with the middle-aged Cuthberts, the stern Marilla and her brother, Matthew, on Prince Edward Island. Anne is clever and supremely imaginative, if melodramatic and disposed to "getting into scrapes"—like the time she accidentally got her best friend Diana drunk on currant wine, or when she broke a slate over Gilbert Blythe's head. Anne and her "queer ways" would go on to appear in 10 more books, becoming the Island's brightest student, winning a scholarship and going to college, before coming back to Avonlea to marry Gilbert Blythe and raising six children.
Anne of Green Gables was a massive hit when it was first published in 1908, so much so that publishers issued 10 printings of the book in the first year alone. Even Mark Twain was reportedly a fan, calling Anne "the dearest and most lovable child in fiction" since Lewis Carroll's Alice. The following year, Anne was introduced to Europe, where she became an instant phenomenon. At least 50 million copies in 36 languages of Anne of Green Gables have been sold worldwide.
Anne is huge in Japan. Like Harry Potter huge. Anne of Green Gables was translated into Japanese by a respected and well-known Japanese author; in 1952, when Japanese officials were looking for translations of enriching, inspirational Western literature to teach in schools, Anne became part of the Japanese curriculum. Japan fell head over heels for Anne, finding her red hair exotic, her hardworking attitude and kind nature endearing, and her story of winning over the town inspirational.
Anne has become an entrenched part of Japanese culture: There is an Anne Academy, a nursing school nicknamed the "Green Gables School of Nursing," and several national fan clubs. People get married in Anne-themed weddings, thousands of Japanese tourists visit Prince Edward Island each year, and surveys still consistently find that the book is the most favorite of young women across Japan. In 2008, Canada and Japan created anime-style Anne stamps featuring characters from the book. The stamps were so popular in Japan that they sold 10 million of the 15 million run in the first month of their release.
During World War II, Polish soldiers were issued copies of Anne to take with them to the front, while on the home front, the books were a big part of the thriving black market. Feisty Anne was something of a hero who is even now celebrated:

This year, Polish celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the book's European debut attracted thousands of teenagers and children, many dressed in costume and, reports say, "pumping their fists into the air." The kids even mobbed the Canadian ambassador for his autograph when he showed up to open the celebration.

(The book was actually translated into Polish in 1912, but had arrived in other languages in 1909.)
In 1934, Anne of Green Gables was made into a film—starring an actress named Anne Shirley in the title role. Shirley, who was at the time only 16 years old, was actually born Dawn Paris, but was so taken with the character Anne that she decided to take her name in real life as well. (More on Shirley here.)
Anne is still big business: On Prince Edward Island, which jointly owns the trademarked term "Anne of Green Gables" with Montgomery's heirs, Anne-fans can buy Anne tea sets, Anne straw hats, Anne candies, Anne note cards and pencils, Anne dolls, Anne cookbooks, and Anne light switches. Then there are the spin-offs, the movies, the mini-series, the stage musicals and plays; last year, an authorized prequel called Before Green Gables by 81-year-old Canadian author Budge Wilson was published with great success.
Despite the inspirational, even borderline mawkish, stories that she wrote, L.M. Montgomery was not always a happy woman. Montgomery's mother died when she was very young and her distant father sent her off to live with her severe Presbyterian grandparents. Unlike Anne, however, Montgomery was never able to win over her adoptive family and her childhood was not a happy one. When her father remarried, Montgomery was sent to live with her father's new family, but less as a daughter and more as a live-in servant, pulled out of school to take care of her stepmother's new baby.

Things on the home front never really got better for the budding author, even as her literary career began to take off: Three years after the publication of Anne, she married a minister who suffered from what was referred to at the time as "religious melancholia," but was more likely clinical depression. Montgomery spent much her married life ministering to his increasingly demanding needs; even as she took care of her husband, however, she began suffering from her own depression and fierce mood swings.
Montgomery died in 1942, allegedly of heart failure—but last year, Montgomery's granddaughter revealed that the 67-year-old author had actually killed herself, overdosing on drugs and leaving a note in which she asked for forgiveness.
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anne-disneyWhen I was a little girl, my grandfather was a huge Anne fan. So much so that when I went on vacation with my grandparents in their RV (didn't everyone's grandparents have one of those in the "˜80s?), we headed straight up the coast to hop the ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Along the way, we watched Disney's film version, featuring Megan Follows as the feisty, melodramatic redhead with a penchant for playacting, and I tried to read the entire series of the Anne books. It was Anne-overload, but I loved it—because who doesn't love Anne-with-an-"˜e'?

Do you have any Anne memories? Do you love the redheaded heroine—or did you hate her?




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