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Beyond Wild Things: 5 Maurice Sendak Stories You Should Read

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Yslee.com

While Where the Wild Things Are is Maurice Sendak’s best known book, it’s not his only notable one. In honor of the author/illustrator's birthday—he would have been 85 today—here are five other Sendak masterpieces you should read (and after that, check out today’s awesome Google Doodle). Let the wild rumpus start!

1. In the Night Kitchen

This 1971 children’s book might be Sendak’s most controversial story: In it, a little boy named Mickey, who is disturbed by noises on a lower floor, has a dream in which all of his clothes disappear and he takes a fully naked romp through a place called the night kitchen. He’s almost baked in a pie by three bakers, makes an airplane out of dough, and slides down a giant bottle of milk—all in the nude. Libraries refused to carry the book, or drew diapers over Mickey.

“It’s one of my favorite works, and it’s a rather complex work,” Sendak told NPR’s Terry Gross in 1993. “And to have it all reduced, so to speak, to a child’s penis, is embarrassing. It’s silly. And the fact that anyone could carry on about such an issue does not speak well for our culture.”

The book was #25 on the American Library Association’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, and, in 1981, was turned into a trippy, wonderful short film. You can also listen to James Gandolfini read the story at Sendak's 80th birthday in 2008:

2. Chicken Soup with Rice

Teachers use this story—in which kids sip chicken soup with rice every month of the year, as described in rhyming verse—to teach younger students about poetry (and, probably, about how delicious chicken soup with rice is).

In 1975, Sendak collaborated with Carole King to create a half-hour musical TV program, Really Rosie, which incorporated several of Sendak’s stories from 1962’s The Nutshell Library—including Chicken Soup with Rice:

3. Outside Over There

This 1981 book—in which a young girl must rescue her baby sister, who was kidnapped by goblins—was inspired by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. In fact, one of the illustrations of the lost baby is actually a portrait of Charles Lindberg Jr. In the 2009 documentary Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak, the author talks about how the kidnapping influenced him and the book (Sendak starts discussing it at around the 20 minute mark in the video below):

4. Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue

“There once was a boy named Pierre, who only would say ‘I don’t care!’” Sullen Pierre doesn’t even care when a hungry lion comes over and threatens eats him—and then actually does. Thankfully, spending some quality time in the lion’s tummy teaches Pierre to care.

The story first appeared in 1962’s The Nutshell Library.

5. Kenny’s Window

Kenny’s Window was Sendak’s first book, published in 1956. In it, a young boy wakes up from a dream about a garden, where he would like to live forever. In the search for the garden, he learns about himself.

The Christian Science Monitor dubbed it “a classic (meaning that adults, who are the only ones to give a hoot about ‘classics,’ will like it, too—and for a long time).”

What's your favorite Maurice Sendak story?

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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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