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10 Versions of Poe's "The Raven"

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Even though the Poe Toaster appears to be nevermore, we couldn’t let Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday pass without a tribute to the master of the macabre. Poe's poem “The Raven” has inspired many a creative thinker since it was first published in 1845, so in honor of what would have been his 205th birthday yesterday, here are a few renditions of the chilling classic.

1. "Treehouse of Horror I," The Simpsons

That’s James Earl Jones as the narrator, by the way.

2. “Fry Hard 2: Chicken (Fried)," Alton Brown’s Good Eats.

Instead of a raven perched upon the bust of Pallas, a chicken alights on a likeness of Julia Child.

3. “A Nauseous Nocturne," Calvin & Hobbes

Image courtesy of

This Poe-esque piece was an original strip created for The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury.

4. “A Cartoon Travesty of ‘The Raven,’” Fleischer Studios

In this 1942 version, the persistent raven is a vacuum cleaner salesman. Terrifying, indeed.

5. “Quoth the Weirdo,” The Muppet Babies.

In a season six episode, the young Muppets explore various poems. It should come as no surprise that Gonzo’s a big Poe fan. (Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” transitions into “The Raven” around 9:30.)

6. The Grateful Dead, "The Raven"

The Dead performed their own interpretation of “The Raven” at the Baltimore Civic Center on April 19, 1982.

7. Lou Reed, "The Raven"

Poe also resonated with Lou Reed, whose 2003 album “The Raven” paid tribute to the poem. The album’s guest stars included Steve Buscemi, David Bowie and Willem DaFoe. Below is DaFoe’s contribution to the album:

Here’s Lou Reed reciting his inspiration at the Cannes Advertising Festival last year.

8. "No Parking Hare," Looney Tunes

Bugs Bunny recites a few lines from “Poe’s Kiddie Komics” to complain about his interrupted sleep in 1954’s “No Parking Hare.”

9. "Quoth the Raven," Night Gallery

The Rod Serling series imagined that the eponymous raven actually harassed Poe as he was trying to write his poem back in the 1800s.

10. "How Sweetie It Is," Tiny Toon Adventures

My favorite doesn’t appear to be available online, unless you’d like to purchase the episode on Amazon. Sweetie the canary is a freeloader at Edgar Allan Poe's house, raiding the fridge and hogging the couch. (Well worth your $1.99, in my opinion.)

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]