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9 Famous Works Written in Exile

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Flickr: rfranklinaz

In August of 1815, Napoleon set sail for Elba, where the overthrown leader was allowed to keep his title of emperor, reigning over the island's 12,000 inhabitants. Not every exiled person got to possess political clout, but for a collection of creative thinkers, getting banished from their homelands (or banishing themselves, for that matter) helped some of their most famous compositions see the light of day.

1. Ernest Hemingway—The Sun Also Rises

University of South Carolina

Sent to France as a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway loved the expatriate culture he found there so much that he became one himself. He stayed in Paris on self-imposed exile, writing his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises there. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think some of the book’s passages had some autobiographical influence, too, with dialogue exchanges like:

Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.

2. Albert Einstein—Manhattan Project letter

Wikimedia Commons

A noted pacifist—he once said “I loathe all armies and any kind of violence”—Einstein escaped the growing control of Nazis in Germany by fleeing to the United States in 1933. Six years later, Einstein and Hungarian emigrant Leo Szilard wrote Franklin Delano Roosevelt a letter about the very real threat of German scientists building an atomic bomb, and urging the government to jump into uranium research.

That letter, along with meetings between Einstein and Roosevelt, ignited the chain of events that led to the Manhattan Project in 1942, leading the United States to be the only country in World War II to successfully create an atomic bomb. Five months before the scientist died in 1954, he reconsidered his actions, saying, “I made one great mistake in my life... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them.”

3. Oscar Wilde—The Importance of Being Earnest

NYU

The Irish playwright was imprisoned in England on charges of sodomy and gross indecency as Oscar Wilde, but left Britain in 1897 as an exile named Sebastian Melmoth. Sick and completely broke, Wilde stole the surname from a character in his great-uncle Charles Maturin’s gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer.

In Paris, Wilde published The Importance of Being Earnest, though he refused to give himself credit on the playbill—the first edition's cover touted that the play was “by the author of Lady Windermere’s Fan." After writing the play, Wilde confessed that he had lost his joie de writing, despite loving the play: “The first act is ingenious; the second, beautiful; the third, abominably clever,” Wilde said.

4. The Rolling Stones—Exile on Main Street

Amazon

The Stones may have been exiled on Main Street, but they fled England in 1971 as tax exiles. “After working for eight years I discovered at the end that nobody had ever paid my taxes and I owed a fortune. So then you have to leave the country,” confessed snarling frontman Mick Jagger. “So I said f*** it, and left the country.”

Before the British government could seize the band’s assets, the band settled in France. When it came time to record Exile on Main Street, Keith Richards transformed his basement in Villefranche-sur-Mer into a makeshift studio using the band’s mobile recording truck. In 1972, the same year their ode to exile came out, the Rolling Stones started using banks in Holland, since there was no tax on royalties under Dutch law.

5. Victor Hugo—Les Miserables

Flickr: rfranklinaz

First kicked out of France for his vehement opposition to Napoleon III’s empire, Hugo was then banished in succession from both Belgium and the island of Jersey. In a letter written 26 miles from his native country, Hugo wrote, “Exile has not only detached me from France, it has almost detached me from the Earth.” But in October of 1855, Hugo found his “rock of hospitality and freedom” in Guernsey, a neighbor of Jersey in the English Channel.

It was there Hugo picked back up his earlier abandoned novel, Les Miserables, along with novels like Toilers of the Sea and volumes of poetry including Les Contemplations. Hugo wrote at a torrid clip with mortality-fueled motivations: Since the writer was in his 50s when he reached Guernsey, he feared his “present refuge” would turn into his “probable tomb.”

6. Dante—The Divine Comedy

Wikimedia Commons

As one of six politicians governing Florence, the poet exiled several of his own rivals before getting banished himself in January of 1302 for supporting the Holy Roman Emperor instead of the papacy. If the poet-politician returned to Florence without coughing up a hefty fine, his punishment would be getting burned at the stake.

During his 20 years of wandering through Italy, Dante composed his three-part epic poem The Divine Comedy, even dedicating the last canto of the poem ("Paradiso”) to the troubles suffered by exiles. He never returned to Florence, even when the punishment was dropped to house arrest, but the city eventually scrubbed the poet’s criminal record in 2008—about 700 years too late.

7. Pablo Neruda—Canto General

O Grifo e Meu

Referred to as “one of the great ones…A Whitman of the South” by the New York Times, Neruda left Chile for Mexico in self-imposed exile since his pro-Marxist stances weren't making him many allies. Spending three years in Mexico, Neruda wrote Canto General, a behemoth of a poetry collection that tried to chronicle the history of Hispanic America in 15,000 lines.

Neruda returned to Chile and, in 1971, became a Nobel laureate. Two years later, Neruda almost became a second-time exile—during the Chilean coup d’état of 1973, when a dictatorship took command of the nation, ambassadors from Mexico and Sweden offered to take Neruda and his wife in. When armed forces searched the political poet’s Chile residence, he quipped, “Look around—there's only one thing of danger for you here—poetry.”

8. Frédéric Chopin—Funeral March

The third movement of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-Flat Major is modeled after the often-parodied Rossini opera La Gazza Ladra—a bold move, considering the movement is a weepy funeral march. The Polish composer penned the composition in the 1830s, when he was an expatriate in Paris and part of Poland's Great Emigration. Chopin didn’t often perform publicly in France, but according to NPR, "His colleagues said that he often played in salons, and the only way to get him to stop playing was to get him to play the March.”

The haunting melody might be familiar to astute sci-fi fans too. “The Imperial March,” the John Williams composition that accompanies Darth Vader every time he first shows up on-screen in Star Wars, based its theme on Chopin’s iconic tune.

9. Sigmund Freud—An Outline of Psycho-Analysis

Barnes and Noble

Never mind that Freud was 82 when he arrived in London in 1938, fleeing from the Nazis in Germany. In his London home at 20 Maresfield Gardens, the aging doctor compiled a final summary of his life's work that he titled An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, which he had started writing in Vienna before leaving for London. 

By September of 1938 (he got to London in June), he had polished off three-fourths of the book, but due to his battle with cancer and one last surgery in 1938, the book went unfinished. A year after Freud's death in 1939, the incomplete three-section book was published posthumously.

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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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