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6 Ways Charles Schulz Really Was Charlie Brown

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While Charlie Brown and his creator, Charles Schulz, share a first name, the character was actually named after one of Schulz’s art school friends, not after himself. Despite this, the big-headed character shares a lot more with his creator than a name. In honor of what would have been Charles Schulz’s birthday, let’s celebrate the man and his creation by considering how similar Schulz was to good old Chuck.

1. They Both Had Terrible Valentine’s Days

We all know that Charlie Brown never receives Valentines even though he gives them out to everyone else, but he isn’t the only one that Cupid seemed to laugh at. Schulz was skipped ahead two grades as a child and was always shy and awkward around the other students in his classes. For his first grade Valentine’s Day, his mother helped him make up Valentines for everyone in class so no one would be left out. Unlike Charlie, who was ignored by everyone else, Schulz excluded himself. He was too shy to put the box of Valentines at the front of the class, so he held on to them throughout the day—and later brought them back to his mother.

2. They Mutually Loved The Little Red-Haired Girl

If you’re mostly familiar with the animated Peanuts classics instead of the comic strips, then you probably don’t realize just how unobtainable the Little Red-Haired Girl actually is—she’s never actually shown in the entire comic strip series. Charlie Brown talks about her and on rare occasion he gathers the muster to talk to her out of the frame, but she is never once shown in the strip.

The Little Red-Haired Girl and Charlie Brown’s obsession with her was based on a real-life obsession Charles Schulz had for a young redhead named Donna Mae Johnson. The couple met while working together at Art Instruction, an art correspondence school. Before long they had been together for three years, but when Charles asked her to marry him, she refused, only to marry another man in October of the same year. While the two remained friends, it seems Schulz never completely recovered from his broken heart. He once said of the ordeal, "I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much. A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is."

3. They Both Loved Their Dogs

It isn’t too surprising to hear that Schulz had a black and white dog during his childhood that later served as the inspiration for Snoopy. Interestingly, the dog wasn’t actually a beagle though, it was a pointer named Spike. Charles’ first published drawing was of little Spike and it was featured in the newspaper comics feature Believe it or Not.

4. They Both Were Tormented By Bossy Women

Like The Little Red-Haired Girl, Lucy Van Pelt was also based on a real person, only in this case, it was actually two people. The bossy, impatient and rude character was based on Schulz’s mother and his first wife, Joyce.

One can imagine how bad Schulz’s relationship with Joyce was, based on the fact that only a year after their wedding Schulz introduced Lucy to the world. Even after the couple’s divorce, Schulz still featured Lucy prominently in the series, where she always seems to have the upper hand over poor old Charlie.

Schulz’s mother was also a big inspiration for Charles, as her cold and distant manner made him constantly feel like he wasn’t getting enough love. This is reflected in the way other characters treat Charlie Brown. While he seems largely positive despite his maltreatment, this is one way he greatly differed from Schulz, who grudgingly held on to every indignity and insult he ever received and used them later on to fuel his strip.

5. They Were Both Above Racism

While Schulz generally stayed out of politics and Charlie and the rest of the gang never really mention current events, both he and his cartoons were progressive when it came to race. When Schulz added Franklin to the cast of the strip, race relations of the late sixties were at a boiling point. While he claimed the character had no political motivations, he obviously was against segregation and politely ignored hate mail sent in by both editors and readers complaining about the decision to have Franklin attend school with the rest of the children.

Similarly, when Hank Aaron was challenging Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974, Schulz read about the hate mail received by the athlete and decided to support Aaron by drawing a series of cartoons detailing Snoopy’s difficulty as he approached the home run record.

6. They Died Within Two Hours of One Another

Perhaps one of the saddest things Charlie Brown has in common with his creator is their deaths. Schulz knew he was becoming sick in the late nineties and announced his retirement in December of 1999 and requested that the publishers discontinue the series after his death. He continued to produce enough Sunday strips to last through mid-February, and on Saturday, February 12, 2000, he passed away. Only two hours later, the final Peanuts strip was printed.

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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]