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Jessica Hische for Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics Series

10 Things You May Not Know About Pride and Prejudice

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Jessica Hische for Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics Series

It’s a simple story: boy is rude to girl, girl dislikes boy. Boy proposes to girl and she refuses him. Later, she discovers that he’s stinking rich. Hijinks ensue. In the end, they are married in an ideal 19th-century wedding of both love and money. Today, over 200 years later, Pride and Prejudice remains Jane Austen’s most beloved novel.

1. Like her characters, Austen was rejected for not being rich enough.

Pride and Prejudice is about young women of gentile poverty trying to find good marriage matches. This issue must have been fresh on the young author’s mind when she wrote the book. At age 20, she had a flirtation with a young man named Tom Lefroy. Like a scene out of one of her novels, she flirted scandalously with him at a ball. “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together,” she wrote to her sister Cassandra. “He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you.” But Austen’s social status wasn’t high enough and Lefroy’s family separated the two lovebirds. Lefroy was soon engaged to a woman with a large fortune. Austen wrote her sister: “At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy … My tears flow as I write this, at this melancholy idea.” 

2. Mr. Darcy is extremely rich.

The characters in Pride and Prejudice constantly exclaim over Mr. Darcy’s $10,000 pounds a year, but how rich is that exactly? In 2013, The Telegraph calculated that adjusting for financial changes, a decent estimate might be 12 million pounds, or $18.7 million U.S. dollars a year. And that’s just interest on top of a much larger fortune. It’s no wonder Mrs. Bennet gushed about Elizabeth’s engagement—"How rich and how great you will be! What pin-money, what jewels, what carriages you will have!" Marrying Darcy would be like marrying a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt. 

3. Lydia elopes to the Las Vegas of her day.

In the book, the Bennet family is almost ruined when Lydia elopes with the nefarious soldier George Wickham to Scotland. “I am going to Gretna Green,” Lydia writes her sister, “and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton.” Unlike England, Scotland allowed people under 21 to get married without parental consent, and without the same legal and religious bureaucracy. Gretna Green was the first town over the Scottish border. There, a young couple could be joined with “marriage by declaration,” which often occurred in a blacksmith shop.

4. Like Elizabeth and Jane, Austen was close to her sister.

In Pride and Prejudice, the relationship between the two sisters is central to the novel. In real life, Jane was very close to her sister Cassandra. They wrote each other almost every day when they were apart and would voluntarily share a bedroom, even when they could sleep separately. When Jane died, Cassandra wrote her niece: “She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow.” It’s no wonder that close sisters appear in so many of Austen’s novels. 

5. A publisher rejected the novel without even reading it.

Austen finished the book, then titled First Impressions, when she was 21 years old. In 1797, her father sent it to the publisher Thomas Cadell, writing that he had "a Manuscript Novel comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss [Fanny] Burney's Evelina." He asked how much it would cost him to publish the book and what Cadell would pay for copyright. In response, Cadell scrawled “Declined by Return of Post” on the letter and sent it back with insulting speed. The novel languished for 14 years until, flush with the success of Sense and Sensibility, Austen revised the manuscript. It was published in 1813 when she was 37 years old. 

6. The title came from a Fanny Burney novel.

Austen probably got the title Pride and Prejudice from Cecilia by Fanny Burney, where the phrase is repeated several times—and in block capitals, no less. “The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr. Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. … If to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination.” 

7. Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously.

Austen didn’t put her name on her novels, and would only say they were “By a Lady.” The title page of Pride and Prejudice said, “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.” It wasn’t until after her death that her brother revealed her name to the public. 

8. Austen worried the novel was too frivolous.

Because Pride and Prejudice humorously deals with women getting married, it’s often described as “chick lit,” a label some fans find reductionist. But Austen herself worried the book wasn’t serious enough. “The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling,” she wrote. “It wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had.” Overall, though, Austen was “well satisfied enough” with the novel, especially with the character of Elizabeth. In another letter, she said, “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know.”  

9. She sold her copyright for 110 pounds—but wanted 150.

Austen sold the copyright for Pride and Prejudice to her publishers for 110 pounds, even though she said in a letter that she wanted 150 pounds. She chose this one-time payment, forfeiting any risk or reward connected to the future of the book. It was a bad gamble. The book was a best seller, and was on its third printing by 1817. It has been in print ever since. 

10. Pride and Prejudice has been adapted hundreds of times.

The adaptations of Pride and Prejudice seem endless (and sometimes bizarre). There have been at least 11 film and TV versions of the book, including the 1995 TV movie starring Colin Firth as a memorable Darcy. Other adaptations include Bridget Jones Diaries, the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice, the mystery novel Death Comes to Pemberley, and the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.” And Austen fever never stops—the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is set to come out in February. 

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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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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