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5 Writers Who Took Romantic Revenge in Print

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Wikimedia Commons

Rather than forgive and forget, these wordsmiths used their poison pens to deliver a healthy dose of literary revenge.

1. Norman Mailer

The honeymoon didn’t last long for the notoriously combative Mailer and Lady Jeanne Campbell, his third wife and sparring partner. The pair’s bickering was so fierce that Campbell joked they could clear a room quicker than anyone in New York. The British aristocrat gamely stuck it out for a year before making haste to a divorce court while Mailer symbolically murdered her in An American Dream. In the dark urban fantasy, the main character strangles his wife, throws her out a window, and sodomizes the maid. The misogynistic tale—called “the hate book of all time” by Campbell—helped cement Mailer’s place as public enemy number one on the feminist hit list.

2. Ernest Hemingway

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When Martha Gellhorn claimed, “Hell hath no fury like E.H. scorned,” she spoke from experience. Hemingway nursed a long-time grudge against the war correspondent, the only one of his four wives to commit the cardinal sin of walking out on him. A decade later, despite having married again, he took pot shots at Martha in Across the River and into the Trees. “She had more ambition than Napoleon and about the talent of the average High School Valedictorian,” claimed the protagonist. Not only did Hemingway’s fictional alter ego deem his ex-wife conceited, ambitious, and untalented, he wished he could hang her from a tree. The comments were so vitriolic his publisher feared they might incite a libel suit.

3. Simone de Beauvoir

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Even trailblazing feminist Simone de Beauvoir—who scorned conventional marriage and relished her sexual freedom—wasn’t immune to jealous rivalries. When her longtime love, fellow philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, began zealously pursuing one of her own bedfellows, young student Olga Kosakiewicz, Simone found herself questioning her long-held beliefs. Ultimately, she reached a shocking conclusion—in print, anyway—by coldly and calculatingly murdering Olga’s doppelganger in her novel She Came to Stay. As if to soften the blow, she ironically dedicated the book to the other woman.

4. Lord Byron

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When Lady Byron realized her husband had a fondness for sleeping with men, as well as his half-sister, she made the drastic decision to leave him. After sneaking out of the house with their infant daughter in tow, she drew up a list of Byron’s bizarre behaviors and submitted it to her lawyers, concluding that her hubby was mentally deranged. Far from being contrite, Byron felt he was the wronged party and in his satiric poem Don Juan, he maligned his wife as a “virtuous monster” who “called some druggists and physicians / And tried to prove her loving lord was mad.”

5. Louise Colet

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After having her heart broken not once, but twice, by Gustave Flaubert, poet Louise Colet was understandably incensed when she read his racy novel Madame Bovary. The dastardly writer shamelessly infused the story with intimate details taken from her life, including their first sexy tryst in a carriage. Adding insult to injury, the book insinuated that she, like Madame Bovary, used men to advance her social status. The tempestuous Louise had once attacked a journalist who besmirched her reputation, threatening him with a knife, but this time she sharpened her pen instead. In retaliation, she wrote a bestselling semi-autobiographical novel, Lui, which depicted Flaubert as a red-faced buffoon and womanizer.

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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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