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8 Novelists Who Were Featured on International Banknotes

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While American currency features former U.S. Presidents, Founding Fathers, and iconic landmarks, many other countries put famous writers, poets, artists, and novelists on their banknotes.

1. Hans Christian Andersen // Denmark

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is mostly known for his classic fairy tales like "Thumbelina," "The Little Mermaid," and "The Emperor's New Clothes," which were published in the late 1830s. The Danish government issued Andersen's likeness on the 10 Kroner note in 1952 until Danish Councillor of State Cathrine Sophie Kirchhoff replaced the writer on the banknote in 1975.

In 2005, Danmarks Nationalbank issued five special 10-Kroner coins, as part of a year-long "Andersen Year" to celebrate the bicentennial of the writer's birth [PDF].

2. Robert Louis Stevenson // Scotland

In 1994, the Royal Bank of Scotland issued special commemorative £1 banknotes featuring Robert Louis Stevenson—author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the novelist's death. The banknotes featured Stevenson's childhood home in Edinburgh and his final resting place on the Samoan Islands.

3. James Joyce // Ireland

The Central Bank of Ireland issued £10 banknotes featuring Ulysses writer James Joyce in 1993. The back of the note features Joyce's signature and a line from his final novel, Finnegans Wake, which read, "Riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

The Central Bank of Ireland discontinued the banknote and replaced it with the Euro in 2002. However, a special commemorative €10 coin was minted to honor James Joyce in 2013. The coin featured his portrait and an excerpt from Ulysses: "Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read..." 

4. Fatma Aliye Topuz // Turkey

In 2009, Turkey debuted a ₺50 (Turkish Lira) with Turkish novelist and women's rights activist Fatma Aliye Topuz on the reverse side (the country's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, appears on the front of all Turkey's Lira). Born in 1862, she is one of the first female novelists from Turkey and has six novels to her name, including Useful Information, Dream And Truth, and Scenes from Life.

5. Henry Lawson // Australia

In 1966, Award-winning author Henry Lawson was showcased on the $10 Australian bill. Lawson's poems, short stories, and novels reflected the hardships and triumphs of the "underdog" class in Australia's outback without romanticizing them.

6. Sir Walter Scott // Scotland

Novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott is attributed with saving the Scottish banknote. In 1826, Parliament attempted to end production of all banknotes under £5. Using the pseudonym "Malachi Malagrowther" (one of the characters in his novel The Fortunes of Nigel), Scott wrote a series of letters to the Edinburgh Weekly Journal urging Parliament to give the right to continue to print money to the Bank of Scotland.

These letters elicited such a strong response from the population that Parliament issued the Bank Notes Act 1826, which allowed Scottish banks to print one pound banknotes. As a result, The Bank of Scotland printed every banknote with Scott's likeness on the obverse side to honor the writer.

7. Ichiyō Higuchi // Japan

In 2004, the Bank of Japan put novelist Ichiyō Higuchi on the ¥5,000 bill. She became the third woman to appear on Japanese yen, after Empress Consort Jingū (1881) and poet Murasaki Shikibu (2000) [PDF]. Higuchi gained popularity throughout Japan and its literary establishment for her stories about the plight of the women working in Tokyo's red-light district. In 1896, she died of tuberculosis; she was just 24.

8. Charles Dickens // United Kingdom

in 1992, the Bank of England issued £10 banknotes featuring celebrated writer Charles Dickens on the reverse side of the bill (Queen Elizabeth II was featured on the obverse side). In 2003, Charles Darwin replaced Dickens on the reverse side of the £10 note, and Jane Austen will replace Darwin on the banknote in 2017.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.