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The Quick 10: 10 Grown Up Facts About Dr. Seuss

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If Dr. Seuss were still alive today, we could read his own Happy Birthday to You! book to him - he would be 106 years old today. Everyone adored him as a children's author and illustrator, but Theodor Geisel had a very grown up side to him as well. Here are 10 facts about the side of the good Dr. that most people don't know much about.

boners
1. And to Think That It Happened on Mulberry Street was only Dr. Seuss' first published children's book. He had a couple of other adult titles under his belt by that time, including Boners and More Boners. They were later packaged as The Pocket Book of Boners.


2. He also wrote a book called The Seven Lady Godivas, a tale about the seven Godiva sisters, all of whom rode around naked on horses just as the most well-known Lady G did. It was targeted at adults and was a pretty spectacular flop. Some people believe it was this poor reception that led Seuss to write for children almost exclusively.


3. Ted Geisel won an Academy Award for writing the 48-minute-long documentary film Design for Death, a WWII piece about Japanese culture and the war.

4. Seuss' first wife, Helen, committed suicide. She had a long history of health problems and was fighting a losing battle, but likely also contributing to her decision to kill herself was the fact that her husband of 41 years was having an affair with a married woman 18 years younger than him. After Helen died, Seuss married Audrey Dimond, the woman he had been having an affair with. She divorced her husband and sent her kids away to school to be with him. "They wouldn't have been happy with Ted, and Ted wouldn't have been happy with them," she later said.

5. After The Seven Lady Godivas bombed, Seuss didn't write and illustrate another book targeted at adults for about 50 years. After suffering through a series of illnesses and pains related to getting older and spending what he felt was way too much time in hospital waiting rooms, he wrote the tongue-in-cheek You're Only Old Once! in 1987. It was published on his 82nd birthday. Here's an excerpt:

"You'll be told that your hearing's so murky and muddy,
your case calls for special intensified study.
They'll test you with noises from far and from near
and you'll get a black mark for the ones you can't hear.
Then they'll say "My dear fellow, you're deafer than most.
But there's hope, since you're not quite as deaf as a post.
We'll study your symptoms. We'll give you a call.
In the meantime, go back and sit down in the hall.

6. Geisel may not have been crazy about kids, exactly, but he and his first wife did want to have children of their own - they just couldn't. To try to make light of the sad situation, Dr. Seuss made up a fake child named Chrysanthemum Pearl and often referenced her when friends were bragging about the accomplishments of their own kids. She apparently made a mean oyster stew with chocolate frosting and flaming Roman candles. He even dedicated The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to her, writing, "To Chrysanthemum Pearl, age 89 months, going on 90."

GEISEL7. Horton Hatches the Egg (1940) was Seuss' last book for seven years - after the wild success of the book, he took some time off from the world of children's publishing to draw political cartoons for PM newspaper during WWII. This included Mein Early Kampf, which showed Hitler as being a hateful baby who refused milk because it came from Holstein cows.


8. He was stripped of his duties as the editor of Jacko, Dartmouth's humor magazine, when he and a bunch of friends were caught sipping on a bottle of bootleg gin during Prohibition. He was put on probation for "defying the laws of Prohibition, especially the night before Easter." He continued to draw for the magazine using a series of pseudonyms, though. That was actually the first time he ever used "Seuss" professionally.

9. As amazing as Dr. Seuss was as a writer and an illustrator, he once said he felt his biggest accomplishment had nothing to do with his profession. He was most proud of the lion wading pool at the San Diego Zoo, which he paid for in 1973.

10. Quitting smoking is a pretty grown up thing to do, but Dr. Seuss took a rather fun, child-like approach to it. He liked to smoke a pipe, so he filled the pipe with dirt and planted strawberry seeds in it. When he felt the urge to smoke, he watered his pipe with an eyedropper instead.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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