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Quotes from 13 Influential Writers for Women's Equality Day

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On August 26, 1920, the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution went into effect, giving women the right to vote (though some would argue that it actually was taken by women voters). First introduced to Congress in 1878, it took nearly a half century for the women's suffrage movement to get the sucker down on paper.

In anticipation of tomorrow's Women's Equality Day—legislated by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the certification of the nineteenth amendment—we're celebrating some of history's feistiest and most influential female writers.

1. Erica Jong

Our favorite Jong quote: "You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy."

Required reading: Fear of Flying

Jong's iconic novel Fear of Flying firmly established her as one of her generation's foremost voices on sex and feminism.

2. Gloria Steinem

Our favorite Steinem quote: "Now, we are becoming the men we wanted to marry."

Required reading: Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

Steinem's Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, a collection of her most provocative essays, showcases her trademark wit and humor. ("If Men Could Menstruate" and her famed underground exposé "I Was a Playboy Bunny" are particular standouts.) 

3. Simone de Beauvoir

Our favorite de Beauvoir quote: "To be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future."

Required reading: The Ethics of Ambiguity

Best known for her landmark work, The Second Sex, de Beauvoir's The Ethics of Ambiguity is not to be overlooked. Here, she grapples with male contemporaries Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as she explores the idea of existence and prescribes a guide to personal freedom. 

4. Helen Gurley Brown

Our favorite Brown quote: No contest. "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere."

Required reading: Sex and the Single Girl

Sex and the Single Girl, the spirited manifesto by Cosmopolitan's long-reigning editor in chief, puts women—and what they want—first. 

5. Alice Walker

Our favorite Walker quote: "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

Required reading: In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens

An early collection of her nonfiction work, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens is a moving manifesto of Walker as a young artist. 

6. Mary McCarthy

Our favorite McCarthy quote: "I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently inhibited about the things that other women are inhibited about for me."

Required reading: The Group

Before there was Sex and the City, there was Mary McCarthy's The Group. This frank and controversial novel centers on eight women from Vassar who share intensely real experiences of womanhood, from child rearing to sexual awakenings.

7. Alix Kates Shulman

Our favorite Shulman quote: "We reject the notion that the work that brings in money is more valuable. The ability to earn more money is a privilege which must not be compounded by enabling the larger earner to buy out of his/her duties and put the burden either on the partner who earns less or on another person hired from outside."

Required reading: A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays

Shulman's essay collection A Marriage Agreement and Other Essays spans four decades of feminism, illustrating how each generation, in Shulman's words, "can do no more than add its bit to the endless river of consciousness and change." 

8. Fay Weldon

Our favorite Weldon quote: "Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens."

Required reading: Female Friends

A smart novel representing the struggles of three women making their way through a world run by men, Female Friends speaks to just how far we've come. 

9. Dalma Heyn

Our favorite Heyn quote: "If she can annihilate her self altogether and still manage to seem contented, then she has achieved the additionally heroic feat of holding on to her femininity—that elusive quality women are always in danger of losing whenever their selves threaten to burst through all the constraints."

Required reading: The Erotic Silence of the American Wife

Wonderfully shocking, The Erotic Silence of the American Wife is a groundbreaking book in the quest to better understand marriage—and its unspoken effects on women's and men's relationships.

10. Pearl S. Buck

Our favorite Buck quote: "Let woman out of the home, let man into it, should be the aim of education. The home needs man, and the world outside needs woman."

Required reading: Imperial Woman

Imperial Woman tells the full story of Tzu Hsi, a legendary female leader of the Forbidden City who gains enormous power even under harsh gender expectations. 

11. Suzanne Braun Levine

Our favorite Levine quote: "The best thing a man can do for his health is to be married to a woman. One of the best things a woman can do for her health is to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends."

Required reading: You Gotta Have Girlfriends

You Gotta Have Girlfriends is Levine's exploration and exaltation of the friendships we form with the women in our lives and the benefit of those friendships to our emotional and physical health.

12. Ruth Gruber

Our favorite Gruber quote: "You should have dreams, you should have visions. Never let any obstacle stop you."

Required reading: Ahead of Time

Gruber's memoir Ahead of Time recounts her experiences as a young journalist at the start of what became a trailblazing and remarkable career in a completely male-dominated profession. 

13. Erma Bombeck

Our favorite Bombeck quote: Where to start? There are so many to choose from. But it's hard to beat this one: "A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday."

Required reading: Motherhood

Motherhood is Bombeck's hilarious and caring exploration of the world's most demanding job and stands as a testament to the strength of mothers everywhere.


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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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Library of Congress
10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.


One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.


Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.


Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”


The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.


Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.


Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.


The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.


Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.