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15 Things You Might Not Know About The Great Wave off Kanagawa

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Instantly recognizable, Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa gracefully distills the power of the ocean into a two-dimensional image that's as deceptively simple as it is mesmerizing. But what lies beneath this beloved 19th century masterpiece might surprise you.

1. Though it’s named for a wave, it’s also hiding a mountain. 

Look just right of center. What you might have mistaken for another cresting wave is actually snow-capped Mount Fuji, the highest peak in Japan. 

2. It's a print series, not a painting. 

Though Hokusai was also a painter, the Edo period (1603-1868 in Japan) artist was best known for his woodblock prints. The Great Wave off Kanagawa has become the most famous of his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Full of vibrant color and compelling use of space, each of these prints depicts the towering peak from a different angle and environment. 

3. Making this series was a savvy business move.

Mount Fuji is considered sacred by many and has inspired a literal cult following. So a series of portrait prints, easily mass-produced and sold at cheap prices, was a no-brainer. But when tourism to Japan later blossomed, the prints enjoyed a resurgence as part of a booming industry for souvenirs, especially if they depicted its magnificent mountain. 

4. Hokusai had been painting for 60 years before creating this Wave. 

His exact age has been difficult to pin down at the time of The Great Wave off Kanagawa's making. However, it's commonly believed he was in his seventies. Hokusai began painting at age 6, and at 14, he served as an apprentice to a wood-carver. By 18, Hokusai was taking lessons from ukiyo-e style printmaker Katsukawa Shunshō. Unbeknownst to the young aspiring artist, this path would lead to Japan's most iconic work of art. 

5. The Great Wave off Kanagawa can be seen in museums all around the world. 

Because it is a woodblock print, there are lots of Great Waves to go around. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Museum of London, the Art Institute of Chicago, LACMA of Los Angeles, Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria, and Claude Monet's oft-portrayed home and garden all boast a print in their public displays. 

6. Japan delayed this Wave from catching on worldwide.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa was likely printed between 1829 and 1832, but at the time, Japan was not engaging culturally with other nations except for trade with China and Korea, which was strictly controlled, and the Dutch, who were only allowed to operate in Nagasaki. Nearly 30 years would pass before political pressure pushed Japan to open up its ports and exports to foreign nations. In 1859, a wave of Japanese prints flowed across Europe, winning adoration from the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Claude Monet.

7. Japanese politicians and art historians didn’t view it as real art. 

The Great Wave off Kanagawa rose to such fame that it became a definitive representation of Japanese art and culture to most of the world. But as art historian Christine Guth of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London explains, "Within Japan, woodblock prints weren’t seen as art, they were seen as a popular form of expression and commercial printing." Once used for Buddhist text, woodblock prints had become synonymous with illustrations for poems and romance novels. So, Japan's government officials and art historians were less than thrilled that such a seemingly lowbrow art form had come to define them. 

8. The Great Wave off Kanagawa is not purely Japanese in its style. 

Hokusai studied European works in addition to Japanese ones and was particularly inspired by the linear perspective used in Dutch art. His own variant on this device is evident in the low horizon line, while the European influence is apparent in his use of Prussian blue, a color quite popular on the continent at the time. 

9. The earlier the print, the more highly valued it is.

It's estimated that 5000 to 8000 prints were made of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Unfortunately, over the course of all this production, the wood blocks used to stamp on colors would break down, and with them the quality of the image. This gradual degradation is why museums will brag about their prints being "early" issues.

10. Although they were once cheap, prints now fetch a high price. 

Though thousands were printed, it's estimated only hundreds of The Great Wave off Kanagawa remain. A specimen’s state determines its value. The first state from Nishimuraya Yohachi publishing featured a distinctive blue outline, while the second had a black outline. The former is said to fetch $40,000 to $60,000, while the latter would command half that. Even a good replica could score a collector a few grand.

11. In a way, the print is signed twice.

In the upper left corner of the print, you'll note a box with writing inside and out. Within the box, Hokusai carved the name of the piece, including its place in the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji series. But to its left he wrote "Hokusai aratame Iitsu hitsu," which translates to "From the brush of Hokusai, who changed his name to Iitsu." Over the course of his career, Hokusai changed his name over 30 times. Today, these different names are used to distinguish the distinctive chapters of his work. 

12. It inspired music. 

French composer Claude Debussy shared the inspiration for his orchestral composition The Sea (La Mer) on the cover of its 1905 edition's sheet music. There, a sketch fashioned after The Great Wave off Kanagawa gave music lovers an image to associate with his symphonic sketches. You can listen to it being performed above.  

13. The series of which it’s a part inspired poetry. 

Looking upon Hokusai's ambitious creation, Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke was struck by the diligence that must have gone into its making. And so his poem, "The Mountain," was born, beginning, "Six and thirty times and hundred times/ the painter tried to capture the mountain,/ tore it up, then pushed on again/ (six and thirty times and hundred times)." It’s also gone from icon to emoji

14. That wave is no tsunami. 

The great might of the wave makes the mountain look minute, and the boats that bob beneath it seem doomed for destruction. Such a suggestion of violence has spurred many to assume The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a tsunami. But scholars Julyan H.E Cartwright and Hisami Nakamura exhaustively studied the print and what we know about waves to determine it's in fact a rogue wave, or, more scientifically, “a plunging breaker.”

15. That wave is nonetheless deadly. 

Rogue waves are alternately known as "freak waves," "monster waves," or "killer waves" because they occur out in the open ocean and abruptly, sometimes toppling ocean liners. This particular rogue wave can actually be measured thanks to the three fishing boats (oshiokuri-bune). Cartwright and Nakamura used their known size to determine The Great Wave off Kanagawa is roughly 32 to 39 feet tall.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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