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Mostly Terrible Advice for Daughters From Dads of Yore

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Wikimedia Commons/Ebay/Bryan Dugan

"Experts" of yesteryear weren't shy about advising women on how to be good mothers. But the same can't be said about advice for fathers. It appears there was little market for instructing men how to nurture, provide for, or discipline their children. Who would dare instruct a king on how to rule his own subjects?

But there are plenty of books where fathers advise their children. The advice directed from fathers to sons was rather dull and straightforward. (Stay clean. Don’t spend money. Read Horace in Latin.) But not so for their daughters. For the most part, when fathers of generations past wrote advice to their daughters, that advice was horrifying. Fathers filled pages with doom and shame, threats against their daughter’s very lives and sanity should the girls stray. 

Sick, Simpering and Stupid = Sexy!

John Gregory wrote A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters in 1821. Gregory found human women … gross. He really preferred the ones in paintings and poems. He advised his daughters to banish almost every natural human instinct and behavior they possessed, in an effort to reach true femininity. After telling them never to join in men’s conversation, but listen with placid detachment, he warned against intelligence.

“Be even cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume superiority over the rest of the company. But if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts and a cultivated understanding.”

Understand, darling? Boys don’t make passes at girls in Trigonometry classes.

Gregory approved of physical health and outdoor exercise for his daughters. But for God’s sake don’t tell anyone about it.

“Enjoy [your health] in grateful silence. We so naturally associate the idea of female softness and delicacy with a correspondent delicacy of constitution, that when a woman speaks of her great strength, her extraordinary appetite, her ability to bear excessive fatigue, we recoil at the description in a way she is little aware of.” 

We recoil! Healthy women disgust any decent man! 

Sex Turns Ladies into Crazies

Isaac Gomez, writing 100 years later in 1920, took a more gentle approach. He copied bits of great literature that he thought would help his daughter comport herself properly. He devoted five pages of poetry to the preservation of his daughter’s virginity, and the despair that would befall her if she misplaced it. One of his quoted poems, entitled “Maniac,” describes a woman gone insane from having sex before marriage. And does it with surprisingly few vowels.

See ! yon poor Maniac: shiv'ring in her cell,
With hair dishevell'd, and with bosom bare;
Once bless'd with innocence,
the hours roll'd on In glad succession.
Her cultur'd mind Was calm'and mild as summer ev'nings are,
Till in her soul convulsing passions strove,
And rais'd a dark and wild tornado there…           

And so on until she falls down the void of madness and death. Which we all agree, is pretty much what the tart deserved.

I will say, that in Gomez’s five pages of hymen-praise, I’ve never seen a woman referred to as a fruit so many times, or so colorfully. It was great when they were budding or blooming; but then they got “despoiled” or “pluckt,” becoming a “wreck of maidenhood.” Nobody wants a girl after someone else has pluckt her.

Gregory weighs in on this subject too, but his rules are stricter:

When a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the most powerful charm of her beauty. Why a woman should blush, when she is conscious of no crime? It is sufficient to answer, Nature has made you to blush when you are guilty of no fault, and has forced us to love you because you do so.

Hmm. I just made an oblique reference to flowers having stamens. This 44-year-old mother of six isn’t blushing. What a worthless, debauched hag. God, how I hate her. 

More and Better Stuff

Not all old-school dads were so conservative. As early as 1913, there were signs of fathers starting to believe their daughters were people. Charles Thwing wrote a whole volume to his daughter, just about her entrance to college. College! I mean, she still wasn’t a boy or anything, as he seems to be reminding her in this passage:

Your father may wish you had more and better stuff in you, but you are what you are, and education must educate that individual and that individuality which Nature out of all her material made you.

More and better stuff. Like a penis.

That’s why he had to send her to an all-girls college. He explains it with a great mincing of words, “There are, for some girls, so many [problems] so hard, that they are not able to see through them or think through them or even feel their way into or through them.”

But the bottom line being, boys will twitter-pate the downy softness of your woman-brain, and it’s already delicate enough, darling.   

"You Are Now Old Enough To Know Your Own Mind."

What a relief it was to stumble on to Henry Kett, writing to his daughter Emily in 1809. It was the oldest volume I read, but the most frank and progressive. Marriage was what a girl did with her future in 1809; that’s just the way it was. But Kett did not regard his daughter a helpless, perpetual child. He wanted her to take a hand in her own happiness. You can almost hear a modern father’s bark of “Use your damn brain!” through the spaces in his (very long run-on) sentences.

If you were to be betrayed into a matrimonial engagement by a gay admirer, who is indebted to his dancing-master, his tailor, and his coach-maker for his attractions, and were to be induced by a few flattering speeches, and his stylish appearance, to listen to his proposals, you could not have extreme youth, nor perfect ignorance of the world, to plead your excuse—you are now old enough to know your own mind ….You have had the advantage of being introduced into genteel company, and have daily opportunities of exercising your judgment upon the behaviour and characters of gentlemen.

That means, I raised you to know a dumbass when you see one. No excuses. 

"If You Marry A..."

Kett gets even more explicit in his marital advice to Emily, using terms that probably weren’t politically correct even in his day (a time when the slave trade thrived and people threw their poop into the streets).

1. "If you marry a fool, under the delusion that you will be able to manage him, you may be the victim of your own schemes; for fools are obstinate, and your supposed idiot may put those fetters upon you, which you intended for him." (Idiots bring you down to their level.)

2. "If you marry a rake, from the flattering supposition that you shall be able to effect his reformation, you may bitterly repent of having miscalculated the power of your attractions, and may die of jealousy and despair." (You think your love will change him? Good luck with that, sunshine.)

3. "If you marry a merely rich man, you may indeed gain splendid furniture and gaudy equipages, but you may find too late that a house at the west end of the town, and a box at the opera are no cures for disappointment." (Diamonds don’t ask you how your mammogram went).

4. "If you throw yourself away upon a pauper, he may add ingratitude to ambition; he may disgrace both you and your family; his vulgarity may shock, and his insolence may terrify you." (A lazy bum at rest tends to stay at rest. Except when getting drunk and embarrassing you at barbeques).

5. "If you marry a rich old man, the world will say that you act from mercenary motives, and are only thinking of a large jointure, and the handsome figure you will soon make in widow's weeds." (You're pulling an Anna Nicole Smith.)

6. "If you marry an invalid you must make up your mind to pass many hours in a sick room, and to perform the offices of a nurse." (Love can’t heal all wounds; don’t be a martyr.)

Harsh. But so familiar to what our fathers have said to us in the privacy of our homes in the most unguarded moments. Don’t let that temporary flush of infatuation blind you and bind you. Make smart choices.

To Be the Best Stupid Virgin

It’s very important to remember, when reading these outdated offerings of wisdom, that these fathers weren’t lunatics or tyrants. They just wanted a good life for their daughters. The best life. They lived in a society where silent, stupid, sickly virgins were the most highly valued, and well, they wanted their daughters to be valuable.

These pages of advice, however disturbing to our minds, were meant to impart the tools necessary to navigate their world smoothly and successfully. Back then, that entailed behaving in such a way as to have the finest pick of husbands and friends. Today it may mean teaching her to question authority, making sure she can do basic self-defense, and change her own tires. But whatever the century, whatever the method, good dads have always done the same thing. Encourage, protect, and try to teach their children to choose happiness.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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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]

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