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Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen via Getty Images

7 Famous Author Feuds

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Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen via Getty Images

No matter which popular author you disdain, you're bound to find yourself in good company: There's no love lost between these writers.

1. Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer

The infamous feud started when Vidal compared Mailer to Charles Manson. When Mailer later punched Vidal at a party, Vidal still had the wherewithal to zing his enemy, saying, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer.” Here they are flinging barbs back and forth on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Mailer had headbutted Vidal backstage.

2. Bret Easton Ellis vs. David Foster Wallace


Using all three of your names apparently isn’t enough to provide an writerly bond, because Easton Ellis posted a whole slew of angry insults about the deceased Foster Wallace on his Twitter feed in 2012. A few of the gems:

Saint David Foster Wallace: a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullshit package. Fools.

David Foster Wallace carried around a literary pretentiousness that made me embarrassed to have any kind of ties to the publishing scene…

DFW is the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn’t able to achieve. A fraud.

But Foster Wallace didn’t care much for Easton Ellis, either. In his 1988 essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” Foster Wallace sort of rolled his eyes at the younger author:

The attitude betrayed is similar to that of lightweight neo-classicals who felt that to be non-vulgar was not just a requirement but an assurance of value, or of insecure scholars who confuse obscurity with profundity. And it’s just about as annoying.

3. Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike

Things got a little heated between Rushdie and Updike in 2006 when Updike reviewed Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, saying, “Why, oh why, did Salman Rushdie ... call one of his major characters Maximilian Ophuls?”

''A name is just a name,'' Rushdie later said. “‘Why oh why’ ...?' Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike.'”

He went on to say that Updike’s then-latest novel, Terrorist, was “beyond awful. He should stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do.''

4. Henry James vs. H.G. Wells

Once good friends, Wells understandably got a little upset when his pal listed him among authors he considered to be producing “affluents turbid and unrestrained.” Wells responded by referring to James as a “painful hippopotamus,” and after that, the duo sent nasty (but beautifully written) letters back and forth.

5. Joseph Conrad vs. D.H. Lawrence

"D.H. Lawrence had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities," Conrad once said of Lawrence. And this was before Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover! Conrad didn't seem to like many of his contemporaries, actually—he said George Meredith's characters felt "ten feet high" and Herman Melville "knew nothing of the sea."

Lawrence disagreed. "[Melville's] vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad's, because Melville doesn't sentimentalize the ocean and the sea's unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim." He added that pessimism "pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can't forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in."

6. John Keats vs. Lord Byron

"You speak of Lord Byron and me," Keats wrote to his brother in 1819. "There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees—I describe what I imagine—Mine is the hardest task."

Scholars agree that Keats felt the rivalry more than Byron—Byron mostly seemed to be annoyed that the two of them were even mentioned in the same breath. He even managed to convey a rolling of his eyes when he wrote to John Murray in 1821 to confirm Keats' death:

Is it true - what Shelley writes me that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review?  I am very sorry for it - though I think he took the wrong line as a poet - and was spoilt by Cockneyfying and Suburbing - and versifying Tooke's Pantheon and Lempriere's Dictionary. - I know by experience that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author - and the one on me - (which produced the English Bards &c.) knocked me down - but I got up again. - Instead of bursting a blood-vessel - I drank three bottles of claret - and began an answer - finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head in an honourable way.

7. Charles Dickens vs. Hans Christian Andersen

This celebrated literary pair met just once, but it was more than enough for Dickens. In 1857, Andersen, a longtime Dickens fan, managed to finagle an invitation to his hero’s estate in Gad’s Hill. While Andersen was positively enamored—“Dickens is one of the most amiable men that I know, and possesses as much heart as intellect,” he wrote—the feeling was anything but mutual. Before the Danish author had even set foot in the country, Dickens was already ridiculing his visitor. “He speaks no language but his own Danish, and is suspected of not even knowing that,” he told a friend.

The actual visit didn’t go much better. You know that old saying about houseguests and fish? Apparently Andersen didn’t. Instead of staying a week, as originally intended, Andersen stayed for five. When he finally left, Dickens pinned a note up in the guest room. It read, “Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seems to the family AGES!” They never met again, and Dickens eventually refused to correspond at all.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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