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8 Things To Know About Pablo Picasso

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April 8 is the 40th anniversary of Picasso's death. Celebrate the art legend with these eight facts.

1. His real name was Pablo Ruiz.

Well, actually Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. The Spanish artist adopted his mother's Italian surname, because he thought it suited him better. Here's how he explained it to Hungarian artist George Brassaï: "[Picasso] was stranger, more resonant, than Ruiz ... Do you know what appealed to me about that name? Well, it was undoubtedly the double s, which is fairly unusual in Spain. Picasso is of Italian origin, as you know. And the name a person bears or adopts has its importance. Can you imagine me calling myself Ruiz? Pablo Ruiz? Diego-José Ruiz? Or Juan-Népomucène Ruiz?"

2. He finished his first painting at age 9.

Picasso's parents didn't have a refrigerator, but if they did, they'd have displayed his early works with pride. Painting ran in the family. Picasso started figure drawing and oil painting lessons with his painter father when he was 7. By the age of 9, he'd finished his first painting. Picasso entered Barcelona's School of Fine Arts, where his father taught, at 13. Two years later, he completed what he called his first major painting.

So which of these paintings do you think came first? And which one looks more like grown-up Picasso? Scroll down to the bottom for the answer.

Images courtesy Neatorama

3. There are vicious rumors that Picasso was ... left-handed.

Being called a southpaw isn't the worst thing in the world. Picasso would certainly be in good company, if it were true. But Picasso was a righty. See for yourself.

4. Another rumor: Picasso stole the Mona Lisa.

On August 21, 1911, someone stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and turned the art world upside-down. When a French newspaper offered a reward for information, a man came forward with a statue he'd stolen from the museum four years earlier. He claimed to have stolen a few of them for the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who'd sold them to Picasso. The 29-year-old artist, now living in France, was taken to court, where he denied knowing that the statues he'd purchased were stolen. There was no real evidence or a link to the Mona Lisa theft, so Picasso wasn't charged.

The real thief, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught in 1913 when he tried to sell the pilfered Mona Lisa to an art dealer. Peruggia had once been a guard at the Louvre and constructed the frame that encased the painting. He claimed to have stolen the Mona Lisa to bring her home to Italy, but some still believe that Picasso may have had something to do with it.

5. His iconic shirt is no ordinary striped shirt.

Image courtesy Be Nice. Be Kind.

It's a Breton-striped shirt. In 1858, the navy and white knit top became the official uniform for French seamen in Brittany, with 21 horizontal stripes to represent each of Napoleon's victories and a continuous stripe from shirt to sleeves to make it easier to see sailors in the distance. Coco Chanel brought working-class Breton stripes to the fashion world in 1917. They're still en vogue.

6. Marie-Thérèse Walter was the one who got away.

Picasso said, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” And let’s just say the man never left the concession stand. In 1927, he saw a pretty blonde named Marie-Thérèse Walter on the street and tried to pick her up with the old, “Miss, you have an interesting face ... I would like to do your portrait … I am Picasso” routine.

Marie-Thérèse had never heard of him.

But the two got together, despite differences in age (she was 17; he was 45), social stations (the rest of the world had heard of him), and relationship status (Picasso had a wife, ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and a few random mistresses). It was Picasso’s most colorful love affair. Some of his most acclaimed—and expensive—artwork was inspired by Marie-Thérèse. They even had a daughter together.

Alas, Picasso’s greatest muse never became Mrs. Picasso. The artist refused to divorce Olga, and he and Marie-Thérèse called it quits around 1936. After Olga died, Picasso married Jacqueline Roque, who worked in a pottery studio. Some say Marie-Thérèse was still waiting for Picasso to put a ring on it when he died in 1973. She hanged herself four years later in the home they’d shared. (Jacqueline also committed suicide 13 years after Picasso's death.)

7. Pablo Picasso probably got called an a-hole.

One of the most rocking tributes to Picasso is a 1976 song by The Modern Lovers that starts with the memorable lines: "Well, some people try to pick up girls/And get called a**holes/This never happened to Pablo Picasso."

The song isn't entirely accurate. Contrary to its lyrics, Picasso was more likely 5'4", didn't drive an El Dorado, and probably got called more than a few colorful names. Watch the homemade video below to hear it for yourself (and see some of his art).

8. He wasn't just a painter.

Picasso once said, "My mother said to me, 'If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.'" But that wasn't all. Picasso dabbled in poetry in 1935 after breaking up with his first wife and later wrote two surrealist plays—one of which was performed as a reading with Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Rumor has it, Picasso predicted that someday he'd be more famous for his poems than paintings. But his untitled, punctuation-less, mostly sexual and scatological verses never took off. One gem: "the smell of bread crusts marinating in urine." Hey, you can't be good at everything!

Answer to #2: Pablo Picasso's first painting, Le Picador, is on the right. The other one, La Première Communion, was completed when he was 15.
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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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