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etsy.com

Where Does the Term "The Birds and The Bees" Come From?

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etsy.com

Spring is in the air, and if a classic euphemism is to be believed, this means birds and bees have begun their time-honored practice of non-stop coitus.

Or something like that.

The phrase "the birds and the bees" is hazy by design—it's used to tell children about the mechanics of human sex without actually mentioning sex or humans. It's prudish poetry that has somehow endured throughout the years, but its origins—like its definition—aren't entirely clear.

Kathleen Kelleher writes in the Los Angeles Times that the term is thought to have two possible origins. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with referring to the two species in the context of love in his 1825 collection "Work Without Hope":

All nature seems at work . . . The bees are stirring--birds are on the wing . . . and I the while, the sole unbusy thing, not honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Unfortunately for Coleridge, this fleeting passage had a lasting legacy, and his jealousy at local birds and bees for getting more action than him has been etched into eternity.

USC professor Ed Finegan found an earlier use of the phrase in the diary of John Evelyn, published in 1644 (but written a century prior):

That stupendous canopy of Corinthian brasse; it consists of 4 wreath'd columns--incircl'd with vines, on which hang little putti [cherubs], birds and bees.

Finegan theorizes that Romantic era poets were inspired by this passage's placement of "birds and bees" so close to Cherubs, which represent the sexuality of humans.

The earliest use of the term I found in the New York Times archives that could conceivably be in the modern context of sex is from a Civil War correspondence from Washington DC, published a little over a week after the start of the conflict, in 1861:

It is a warm, sunny day, this 20th day of April. The air is redolent of bursting buds, and the Capital Park is jubilant with the gushing songs of the birds and the humming of the honey-bees. The Northern air that has "aggressed" upon us for a week past has been driven back by the rebellious South wind, that comes, fresh from the fair faces it has carressed, and the waving tresses through which it has wantoned, to enchant the soul with its balmy breath, and entrance the mind with its dreamy sweetness.

The author certainly doesn't shy from wordplay ("aggressed," sick burn), which leads me to believe that euphemistic speaking is a possibility.

On the bright side, the convoluted origins of "the birds and the bees" may inspire you to skip the phrase altogether next time you're asked, "Where do babies come from?"—assuming you're asked before Google is.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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