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14 Facts About Anne of Green Gables Author L.M. Montgomery

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L.M. Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, was born 140 years ago on November 30. The Canadian writer published 20 novels, many of which are still read around the world. But while her most popular creation, Anne (with an 'e') Shirley, finds love and happiness, Montgomery herself wasn’t so lucky. Her life was full of loneliness, suffering, and disappointment. 

1. She felt like an orphan. 

When Lucy Maud Montgomery was a baby, her mother died of tuberculosis. Her father, Hugh John Montgomery, left her with her maternal grandparents, the Macneills, on a farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. The elderly couple was strict and formal with Montgomery and didn’t understand her sensitive personality. She often felt unwanted, and sought comfort in reading books, writing, and her imagination. 

2. She insisted on being Maud without an E.

Like Anne, Montgomery was particular about the spelling of names. She was named Lucy after her grandmother and Maud after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice Maud Mary. She wrote in her journal, “I never liked Lucy as a name. I always liked Maud—spelled not ‘with an e’ if you please.”

3. She loved Prince Edward Island.

Montgomery spent her childhood outside picking berries, fishing, and going to the beach. As a child, she named everything she saw—even apple trees had names like Little Syrup, Gavin, and Spider. Later, Montgomery named these places all over again in her books. Cavendish became Avonlea. Her uncle’s pond became The Lake of Shining Waters. The forest near the farm became the Haunted Woods and a cowpath behind the pasture was Lover’s Lane. 

4. She gave up her newspaper job to care for her grandmother.

In 1901, Montgomery got a job at The Daily Echo in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was the only woman on staff, earning a meager $5/week. She proofread articles, edited the society page, and wrote a column about fads and gossip under the pen name Cynthia. She loved every minute of it. But nine months into the job, her grandfather suddenly died. Montgomery was forced to return to Cavendish and live with her ailing grandmother.

5. She was a flirt.

As a young woman, Montgomery had many romances. She turned down two proposals before getting engaged to her second cousin, Edwin Simpson. Soon, however, she realized she didn't love Simpson and couldn’t marry him. Instead of rejecting him, she strung him along. Meanwhile, she fell in love with Herman Leard, a farmer’s son. Though Montgomery felt strongly about Leard, he didn’t have the intelligence she wanted in a mate. It all came to a head when both men visited her at the same time. She wrote in her journal: “There I was under the same roof with two men, one of whom I loved and could never marry, the other whom I had promised to marry, but could never love!” Needless to say, neither affair lasted. 

6. She wrote despite a lack of support from her relatives.

Montgomery’s family considered writing to be a waste of time, especially for a woman. So she worked in secret, even going so far as to smuggle candles to her room so she could write at night. As she said in The Alpine Path: “I struggled on alone, in secrecy and silence. I never told my ambitions and efforts and failures to any one. Down, deep down, under all discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would 'arrive' some day.”

7. She was able to submit in secret because she ran the post office.

The Macneill homestead was also the district post office. When Montgomery returned to Cavendish, she took over the duties as assistant postmistress. That way, she could send out submissions and receive responses from publishers without anyone knowing. In 1902, she had 30 pieces accepted. In 1904, she earned $600 from writings. In 1906, she earned $700, when the average woman made $300. 

8. She got the idea for Anne from an old journal.

One day, Montgomery was leafing through a journal and found an entry written a decade before. It said: “Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent them.” She started writing a story about a red headed orphan, intending to submit it as a seven-chapter serial for a newspaper. But Anne took on a life of her own and soon Montgomery was writing a novel.

9. She almost gave up when the book was rejected.

In 1905, Montgomery sent Anne of Green Gables out to several publishers, which all rejected the book. Discouraged, she stuck the novel in a hatbox. Two years later, she came upon it, polished it up, and sent it out again. This time, L.C. Page & Company in Boston agreed to publish the novel. Anne of Green Gables came out in 1908 and was an instant bestseller

10. She felt her marriage was a mistake from the start. 

As Montgomery was writing Anne of Green Gables, a new Presbyterian minister, Ewan Macdonald, moved to town. The two become engaged, but had to wait five years until her grandmother died for them to marry. By then, Montgomery was 36 and wanted her own family. 

The wedding wasn’t over before she was flooded with despair, writing in her journal: “I wanted to be free! I felt like a prisoner—a hopeless prisoner. … But it was too late—and the realization that it was too late fell over me like a black cloud of wretchedness. I sat at that gay bridal feast, in my white veil and orange blossoms, beside the man that I had married—and I was as unhappy as I had ever been in my life.”

11. She didn’t always want to write the Anne sequels.

Montgomery’s contract for Anne of Green Gables locked her into writing sequels if the book sold well. She didn’t like the idea, writing in a letter: “I’m awfully afraid if the thing takes, they’ll want me to write her through college. The idea makes me sick.”

Of course, the book did take off. Between 1908 and 1921, Montgomery wrote six Anne books. On completing Rilla of Ingleside, she said: “I am done with Anne forever—I swear it as a dark and deadly vow. I want to create a new heroine now—she’s already an embryo in my mind…. Her name is Emily.” After three Emily books, Montgomery returned to Anne, writing Anne of Windy Poplars in 1936 and Anne of Ingleside in 1939.

12. Her husband was mentally ill.

In 1919, Ewan had a mental breakdown. He suffered from “religious melancholia” and believed that God had predestined him to hell. He would spend days groaning, sobbing, singing hymns, and howling uncontrollably. Sometimes he would stare at the wall for hours, “hair bristling, blue underlip hanging, eyes glaring, face livid,” Montgomery wrote [PDF].

She felt pressured to hide the illness to protect his job as a minister and the family’s reputation. “No one must know,” she wrote. “For Ewan’s sake, and the children as well as my own, what his trouble is. As long as I can keep it secret.” The illness continued for the rest of Ewan’s life.

13. She put up a happy façade to hide crippling depression. 

On the surface, Montgomery seemed like a happy person. Her relatives describe her as comical and jolly. In reality, she was increasingly depressed. Her husband’s mental illness, legal battles with her publisher, problems with her son Chester, increasing dependence on barbiturates, and the looming world war took their toll. In 1940, Montgomery had a nervous breakdown. By the end of her life, she lost the ability to write—the one thing she could always depend on. 

Recently, her granddaughter Kate Macdonald Butler revealed that Montgomery took her own life. She died of a drug overdose at age 67. She’s buried in the Cavendish cemetery on Prince Edward Island.

14. She remains one of Canada’s most beloved authors. 

Montgomery published 20 novels, over 500 short stories, 30 essays, an autobiography, and a book of poetry. Anne of Green Gables has been translated into 25 languages and has been made into movies, plays, musicals, cartoons, miniseries, and radio shows. The book put Prince Edward Island on the map, and the historic site of her birth is a park that sees over 125,000 visitors each year. Montgomery did all this at a time when women couldn’t even vote. Anne would be proud of her.

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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
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fun
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.

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