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10 Things You Might Not Have Known About Truman Capote

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American author, screenwriter, and playwright Truman Capote would have turned 90 today, but the In Cold Blood writer didn’t make it to his 60s (he died at age 59, a little more than a month before his 60th birthday). Responsible for such works as Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, Capote left behind a large and varied legacy. Here are some facts about this true American original.

1. “Capote” wasn’t his real last name.

He was born Truman Streckfus Persons, but "Capote" wasn’t a pen name—it came from his stepfather, Joseph Capote, and his name was changed to “Truman Garcia Capote” in 1935.

2. He taught himself how to read and write.

Truman was classified as a “lonely child,” and before he even entered formal schooling, he used that loneliness (along with his obvious smarts) to teach himself how to read and write. By 11, he was already writing his first short stories.

3. He didn’t attend college.

Capote’s schooling was varied, but rich. After he and his mother moved to New York City from Monroeville, Alabama, he attended a number of high-profile institutions, including the Trinity School, St. Joseph Military Academy, Greenwich High School, and the Franklin School (now called the Dwight School). While finishing up his high school education, Capote worked as a copyboy for The New Yorker, which served as his post-high school proving ground.

4. His most famous character was almost not named Holly Golightly.

The star of his Breakfast at Tiffany’s was originally named “Connie Gustafson” (doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?), which was then changed to “Holiday Golightly” before being edited down to “Holly Golightly.”

5. He had a recurring nightmare.

It took place backstage at a theater. "I have a very important part to play," he once told Gloria Steinem. "The only trouble is that I’m in a panic because I don’t know my lines… Finally, the moment comes. I walk onstage… but I just stumble about, mortified. Have you ever had that dream?”

6. Capote was hired by Rolling Stone to cover a Rolling Stones tour.

In 1972, the magazine hired Capote as their correspondent to cover the Stones’ Exile on Main St. tour. Although Capote headed out on the road with the band, he did not finish the article, later telling Andy Warhol in an interview for the magazine, "I enjoyed [being on tour]. I just didn’t want to write about it, because it didn’t interest me creatively. You know? But I enjoyed it as an experience. I thought it was amusing..."

7. He cameoed in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.

During a scene in the famous comedy, Alvy (Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) are engaging in some casual people-watching at the park. At one point, a dapper gentleman walks by the two and Alvy says, "Oh, there’s the winner of the Truman Capote Look Alike Contest.” It was actually Capote.

8. He carried a security blanket.

During his early years, Capote lived with distant relatives in Alabama, including his mother’s relation, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, whom Capote lovingly called “Sook.” Sook made baby Capote his own baby blanket, which he carried around with him even into adulthood. Capote reportedly even had the blanket on the day he died.

9. Capote left behind not one, but two unfinished novels.

The author had started work on his Answered Prayers back in 1966, and the salacious send-up of high Hollywood society hung over his head for years to come. Although he had signed a contract with Random House in 1966 and promised to deliver it in two years, the book was still unfinished when he died in 1984. A number of chapters had been previously published, and a roughly assembled (and unfinished) version of the book was released in 1986 as Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel.

Although everyone knew about Answered Prayers, fewer people were aware that Capote had yet another unfinished novel hanging around. Early in his career—around the 1940s—Capote started working on a love story set in New York City that chronicled the romance between a rich young lady and a parking lot attendant. Capote told people that he had tossed out the entire manuscript, which would have been his first official novel (Other Voices, Other Rooms eventually took that honor), but a house sitter reportedly snagged it after the author abandoned his Brooklyn Heights apartment—and everything in it—when In Cold Blood made him wealthy. After the house sitter died, the manuscript was discovered, and Summer Crossing was published in 2005.

10. He’s buried alongside other big Hollywood names.

After his death, Capote was cremated and his ashes were placed in a mausoleum in Los Angeles’ Westwood Memorial Park. Other celebrities rest nearby, including Mel Torme and Heather O’Rourke. Not all of Capote’s ashes are in Westwood, however, as some of them were given to his beloved friend Joanne Carson and another portion were mixed in with his partner Jack Dunphy’s, which were then scattered in Long Island.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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