CLOSE
Original image

10 of the Best Parents in Fiction

Original image

It’s a lot more difficult than you might think to find good parents in fiction: Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of fiction deals either with the lack of a parent—being a cardinal rule of children’s fiction to ditch the parents—or a parent’s complete unsuitability for the role. But there are a few out there, parents who make you think, “Gee, I wish my parents were like that.”

Here’s our totally comprehensive, really scientific overview of good parenting in fiction:

1. Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The widowed father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes of American literature. Steering his young children along the path of moral rectitude is hard in the Jim Crow South, and when Atticus, a lawyer, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man from charges that he raped a white woman, it becomes even more difficult. But his own belief in rightness, morality, and good, even in the face of an unfair world, is communicated to his kids — and to the world. His impact on the legal profession, especially in the South, was also profound: The Atticus Finch Society, part of the Alabama Law Foundation, was founded to serve the legal needs of the poor and named after a fictional lawyer who “epitomizes the type of professional, and person, lawyers strive to be.”

2. Alex and Kate Murry
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Tesseracts are real and Meg and Charles Murry’s scientist father has disappeared into one—and it’s up to these two brilliant but socially awkward children to save him. When it was published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was a sci-fi gift to all those nerdy kids out there for whom Star Trek hadn’t been invented yet. And the Murry parents—beautiful and smart microbiologist Kate and tesseract physicist Alex—made being scientists seem so cool. Who wouldn’t want parents like that?

3. The Weasleys
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

Harry Potter wanted them to adopt him—and we wouldn’t mind either. Though Harry was already remarkably well-adjusted for a child who’d been forced to sleep in the spider-filled cupboard under the stairs, his friendship with Ron Weasley and his family showed him what a loving family really looked like. Mom Molly Weasley was kind, fiercely protective of her children—her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book was immensely satisfying—and knits a mean jumper. Dad Arthur Weasley was slightly bumbling, loves Muggle stuff, and still a kid at heart. Best of all, they loved each other as much as they loved their children.

4. Marmee
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Marmee is the glue that holds the Little Women together through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. Kind and charitable, she’s their moral compass, their comfort in troubled times. Without her, the four girls, Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, are lost.

5. Mr. and Mrs. Little
Stuart Little by EB White

Interspecies procreation is typically cause for concern, but not for Mr. and Mrs. Little. When their son, Stuart, was born a mouse, the kind, though perhaps a bit dense, Littles treated him just like any other member of the family. A member of the family who had a long tail, whiskers, slept in a cigarette box and could climb up lamp cords.

6. Ma and Pa Ingalls
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Though Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the Indian Territory, now Kansas, in the mid to late 19th century are actually autobiographical, the books tend to be found in the children’s fiction part of the bookstore, so they make the list. Pa was a true pioneer with a serious case of wanderlust: He could build a house by hand and skin a rabbit, but still remained a gentleman, kind, courteous and upstanding. Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer’s wife, instructed her children to treat others with care.

7. Mr. and Mrs. Quimby
Ramona series by Beverly Cleary


Ramona Quimby, age 8, is a bit of a handful. Her imagination—and she’s got lots of it—often gets her into situations, like the time she went to school with her pajamas under her clothes because she was pretending to be a fireman. Or the time she put her doll in the oven. Or the time she squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.


Her parents, Bob and Dorothy, meanwhile, are real parents, who have to deal with real things like quitting smoking, having children young, getting laid off, and 8-year-olds who accidentally dye themselves blue. And they even get in fights, like real parents do. But throughout it all, they manage to remain patient and affectionate with their children; they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good.

8. Carlisle and Esme Cullen
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer

OK, so they’re vampires. But they’re good vampires, with fabulous dress sense, lots of money, and consciences. Carlisle Cullen is a doctor at the local hospital, having overcome his natural vampiric attraction to blood, and is the founder of the Forks coven that includes dreamy Edward. His compassion and kindness is what keeps the family “vegetarian” and from draining the little rainy town dry. His wife, Esme, loves her adopted children deeply and is the kind of warm, calming influence the family needs. Best of all, they love Bella, Edward’s human beloved, as one of their own.

9. Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Blank Panther, and the wolves
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

After they save him from becoming tiger Shere Khan’s meal, Father Wolf and Mother Wolf raise the hairless man-cub Mowgli as one of their own. But it’s up to Baloo the sleepy bear and Bagheera the panther to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle—thereby becoming the coolest godparents in the world.

10. The Gilbreths
Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

So, the Gilbreths were actual people, not fiction, and this charming book, published in 1948, is a biography written by their children. But—and we mean this as a compliment—the parents are so lovely as to almost seem made up. Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, are world-famous efficiency experts whose studies in time and motion changed the way people worked. If Frank had his way, it would have also changed the way people raised children, especially after their incredible fecundity produced 12 children. Having an even dozen children meant that the Gilbreths could apply some of their expertise in their Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hilarity ensues, as does an overwhelming sense of warmth and happiness.

The two children wrote a follow up book, Belles on Their Toes, recounting what happened after Frank’s death in 1924, which left Lillian with house full of children, the youngest just 2 years old, and a business to run. Mother Lillian manages to keep it all together, with good humor and warmth, and the book manages to stay away from the maudlin.

Now it's your turn. Who would you add to the list?

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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