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12 R.L. Stine Quotes for His Birthday

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You would never know from his books that Goosebumps and Fear Street author R.L. Stine used to write joke books for kids under the name Jovial Bob Stine. Here's some wit, wisdom, and a few stories from the man himself as he turns 70.

1. On his introduction to horror:

“[It] was Pinocchio. My mother read it to me every day before naptime when I was three or four. The original Pinocchio is terrifying. First he smashes Jiminy Cricket to death with a wooden mallet. Then he goes to sleep with his feet up on the stove and burns his feet off! I never forgot it!”

From an interview with Harper Collins.

2. On what scared him as a kid:

"I was afraid of lots of things ... I had this one fear. I'd have to park my bike in the garage after dark, and I always thought something would be lurking in the garage. I used to take my bike and just throw it in so I wouldn't have to go in there. That's a painful way to go through childhood, I think ... But in a way, it's kind of lucky. It helped me out later, because now, when I write these scary books for kids, I can think back to that feeling of panic. I can remember what it felt like, and then I can bring that feeling to my books."

From an interview with Reading Rockets.

3. On writing horror:

“There’s no formula. I think you have to create a very close point of view. You have to be in the eyes of the narrator. Everything that happens, all the smells, all the sounds; then your reader starts to identify with that character and that’s what makes something really scary.”

From an interview with mediabistro.

4. On being scared by things he reads or sees in movies:

"People say, 'Your book keeps giving me chills,' but I don't know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie."

From an interview with the Village Voice.

5. On the biggest problem facing kids today:

"When I was a kid we had childhoods; we didn't have to be sophisticated and cool. We could just be kids. … I think the biggest problem is that kids are growing up too fast and not having fun just being a kid. It's a very tough job to be a kid."

From an interview with Teen Ink.

6. On his writing process:

"I think of the titles first. I think I work backwards from most authors. Most authors get an idea for a story and they start to write it, and then later they think of a title. But I think of the title first and then the title sort of leads me to the story. ...I know the ending, so then I know I can always get there. I plan out every book first before I write a word. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline of every book. So before I start to write, I know everything that’s going to happen in the book. I have it all planned, and then I can just enjoy the writing. I’ve done all the hard part. I’ve done the thinking before I start to write."

From an interview with The Author Hour.

7. On meeting Ray Bradbury:

"A few years ago I got to meet Ray Bradbury for the first time, and it’s so hard to meet your heroes! I was so nervous. It was at the LA Times book festival at a campus near UCLA, and he was sitting in a booth eating a hot dog. And I thought, 'I have to say something to him. I have to say how important he was to me.' When I went over, I was shaking. I was so nervous to meet him. I was like one of my kids, you know? And I went over and I shook hands and I said, 'Mr. Bradbury, you’re my hero.' And he was so nice. We shook hands and he said, 'Well, you’re a hero to a lot of other people!' It was such a nice thing to say. I was totally choked up. I couldn’t even talk. It was such a sweet thing."

From an interview with The Strand magazine.

8. On cats versus dogs:

I've always been a dog person. Had one most of my life. You can tell I don't like cats—because I've written so many books with evil cats. It's much harder to imagine an evil dog.

From an interview with Colby Marshall.

9. On the best advice he’s gotten:

"An editor once wrote on the top of a manuscript I'd written: 'Needs more lore.' MORE LORE is the best advice I ever got."

From an interview with C2E2.

10. On his favorite fan letter:

"My all-time favorite letter was from a boy who wrote, 'Dear R. L. Stine, I've read 40 of your books and I think they're really boring. ' Isn't that perfect?"

From an interview with Teen Ink.

11. On writing for adults versus writing for kids:

"It’s like a runner who’s used to doing sprints and then decides to do a marathon. When I write for kids it has to be kind of believable, but they also have to know it’s a fantasy. But when you write horror for adults, every detail has to be real. I actually had to do research on things like vegetation on the Outer Banks."

As told to Diane Brady of Businessweek.

12. On what advice he would give to kids who want to be writers:

"My advice is to read, read, read. Don't just read one author. Read as many different kinds of things as you can. Later, when you start to write seriously, all the things you read before remain in your brain and will help you with your writing."

From a live chat with CNN.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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