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13 Things You Might Not Know About The Catcher in the Rye

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Since its publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye has spawned catchphrases, book-banning campaigns, unauthorized sequels, and untold millions of padded high school English class essays. Still, there might be some facts left that weren’t covered in said English class.

1. THE BOOK'S INITIAL PUBLISHER THOUGHT HOLDEN CAULFIELD WAS INSANE. 

Before writing Catcher in the Rye, author J.D. Salinger was in talks with Harcourt, Brace and Company about potentially publishing a collection of his short stories. Salinger suggested they publish his new novel instead. His editor, Robert Giroux, loved it—but Giroux's boss, Eugene Reynal, thought Holden Caulfield was crazy. "Gene said, 'The kid is disturbed,'" Giroux later told The Paris Review, continuing,

I said, 'Well, that’s all right. He is, but it’s a great novel.' He said, 'Well, I felt that I had to show it to the textbook department.' 'The textbook department?' He said, 'Well, it’s about a kid in prep school isn’t it? I’m waiting for their reply.' ... The textbook people’s report came back, and it said, 'This book is not for us, try Random House.'

So I went to Mr. Brace. I gave him the whole story. I said, 'I feel that I have to resign from the firm.' I hadn’t got in touch with Salinger because I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. ... He didn’t read the book. Mr. Brace was a wonderful man, but he had hired Reynal and would not overrule him. ... That’s when I decided to leave Harcourt.

The book would later be published by Little, Brown and Company.

2. SALINGER READ THE BOOK OUT LOUD FROM START TO FINISH TO THE NEW YORKER'S FICTION EDITOR.

Before Harcourt, Brace's rejection, Salinger had his short story "The Boy in the People Shooting Hat" turned down by The New Yorker, who wrote to him saying "it has passages that are brilliant and moving and effective, but we feel that on the whole it's pretty shocking for a magazine like ours." When Salinger finally finished The Catcher in the Rye, he drove to New Yorker Fiction Editor William Maxwell's house and read him the story from start to finish. As for "The Boy in the People Shooting Hat"? It essentially became chapters three through seven in The Catcher in the Rye.

3. SALINGER MADE HIS PUBLISHERS REMOVE HIS PHOTO FROM THE BOOK.

A black-and-white photograph of Salinger took up the entire back cover of The Catcher in the Rye's first two printings. Growing warier of his escalating fame, Salinger demanded his publishers remove his photograph from the book starting with its third printing. Earlier, he'd told an interviewer: "Let's say I'm getting good and sick of bumping into that blown-up photograph of my face on the back of the dust-jacket. I look forward to the day when I see it flapping against a lamp post, in a cold, wet Lexington Avenue wind." 

4. THE BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB ASKED SALINGER TO CHANGE THE TITLE.

Before publication, The Catcher in the Rye was selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club to be shipped out to its thousands of subscribers, nearly guaranteeing that it would become an instant bestseller. One caveat, though, was that the club wanted Salinger to change his book's name. Salinger declined, writing to them that "Holden Caulfield wouldn't like that."

5. IT WASN'T UNANIMOUSLY PRAISED UPON RELEASE.

While initial reviews of The Catcher in the Rye were almost overwhelmingly positive, a handful of critics were not amused. The Christian Science Monitor claimed the book was "not fit for children to read" and called Caulfield "preposterous, profane and pathetic beyond belief." 

6. SALINGER STARTED THE BOOK AFTER BEING RELEASED FROM A MENTAL HOSPITAL.

Multiple scholars view Holden's alienation as a veiled response to what Salinger had witnessed as a soldier in World War II, where he spent 11 months advancing on Berlin. Shortly after the German surrender, he checked himself into a mental hospital. Not long after he left, he wrote the first story narrated by Holden Caulfield. "I'm Crazy" was published in Collier's in December 1945. 

7. THERE WAS A PULP-FICTION EDITION IN THE 1950S. 

In the 1950s, it was common practice to reissue "serious" books as pulp paperbacks, designed to attract readers more interested in crime or romance fiction. The Catcher in the Rye was pulp-ified in 1953, with the slogan "this unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh and may break your heart—but you will never forget it." The cover featured a man soliciting a prostitute.

8. THERE ARE MULTIPLE THEORIES ON HOW SALINGER CAME UP WITH THE NAME HOLDEN CAULFIELD.

Some think Salinger got it from Holden Bowler, a shipmate of Salinger's during the war; others believe it came from glimpsing the marquee for the movie Dear Ruth (which starred William Holden and Joan Caulfield). Another theory holds that Holden was a nickname given to Salinger himself by his shipmates.

9. IT MADE SWEAR-WORDS MAINSTREAM.

Just three years before The Catcher in the Rye was published, Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was published with all instances of f**k rendered as "fug." Holden's comparatively profligate profanity was a revelation at the time, and contributed to the book's eventual status as one of the century's most-banned.

10. THERE IS A PREQUEL OF SORTS TO IT.

In 1949, Salinger was set to publish "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls" in Harper's Bazaar, but withdrew it before publication. The story, which is about the death of Holden's older brother, was donated to Princeton University on the condition that it not be published until 50 years after Salinger's death, in 2060. But in 2013, it and two other unpublished stories were scanned and leaked online.

11. JOHN LENNON'S MURDERER WAS OBSESSED WITH IT.

When the police arrived at the scene of John Lennon's murder, they found 25-year-old Mark David Chapman reading aloud from The Catcher in the Rye. He'd bought a copy of the book—his favorite—en route to murder John Lennon; in it he wrote "This is my statement," and signed as Holden Caulfield. The next year, police found a copy of The Catcher in the Rye at the home of John Hinckley Jr. after he attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

12. IT MIGHT'VE POPULARIZED "SCREWED UP" AND "LMAO." 

Though hard evidence is scarce, it's been said that The Catcher in the Rye helped to popularize the phrase "screw up" and the notion of laughing one's ass off

13. ITS UNAUTHORIZED SEQUEL WAS BANNED FROM PUBLICATION IN THE U.S. 

In 2009, author Fredrik Colting, writing under the pseudonym John David California, published an unauthorized "sequel" to The Catcher in the Rye in the U.K. calling it a "literary commentary on Catcher and the relationship between Holden and Salinger." Salinger died in the process of suing Colting for copyright infringement, but he had succeeded in getting Judge Deborah Batts of the New York District Court to claim the book "contains no reasonably discernable [sic] rejoinder or specific criticism of any character or theme of Catcher."

Additional source: Salinger (2013)

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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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