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10 Fascinating Facts About Anthony Bourdain’s Comic Book World

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Call it foodie fury with a Tarantino twist. DC Comics imprint Vertigo recently released the rollicking, sword and sushi tale Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi, the prequel to The New York Times bestseller Get Jiro!, penned by novelist/screenwriter Joel Rose and chef/globe-trotting TV host Anthony Bourdain. Yes, Bourdain is not only a comic book author, but a major collector since childhood. What is even more interesting is that it is old-school horror, humor, and underground comix that rocked his world.

mental_floss recently chowed down with Bourdain and Rose at New York City’s Sake Bar Hagi to discuss their inspiration and collaboration on Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi, which focuses on the titular young yakuza who, contrary to the wishes of his kingpin father and psychopathic younger brother, is quietly training to become a master sushi chef. In other words, he is learning slicing and dicing of a different sort.

1. BOURDAIN AND ROSE HAVE BEEN LONGTIME FRIENDS.

Back when Rose edited the literary quarterly Between C & D on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1980s, Bourdain “sent me some comics that he had drawn and written and we’ve been good friends ever since,” says Rose, who later co-wrote the three-volume La Pacifica graphic mystery novel for DC along with editing and contributing to various crime-related titles there. “Then we had this idea to do something together in a genre that we love.” In this case, they both love Japanese yakuza movies.

2. THEIR COMIC BOOK COLLABORATION BEGAN SPONTANEOUSLY OVER THE HOLIDAYS.

“We had Thanksgiving at my house and got to talking,” recalls Rose. “We thought it would be fun and just pursued it. I had these connections at Vertigo, and we just worked up [into it]. He wrote a few pages, and I looked at them and turned them into a short proposal.”

“Let’s make it really violent, really foodie,” insisted Bourdain for the original book. “Let’s get the food right.”

“It also had a lot of his vibrancy and humor,” notes Rose. “Whoever we gave it to, nobody was turning it down.”

3. BOURDAIN RELATES TO HIS TORTURED YAKUZA PROTAGONIST.

“It’s an aspirational book,” says Bourdain of the prequel. “His frustrations and the things that appall, anger, and frustrate him are the things that appall, anger, and frustrate me.”

4. A MOBSTER WITH CULINARY SKILLS CAN BE HANDY.

When one considers that Jiro has beheaded people, it makes sense that he could contemplate and shift into the art of cooking. Either way, the cutting of meat is involved.

“If there was an unfortunate incident here [in the sake bar], and we were called upon to dismember a body into its constituent parts, I would probably be a good guy to have around,” quips Bourdain. “If inclined to help you out with this problem, I would certainly know what to do and pretty god damn quickly.”

5. THERE ARE SOME CULINARY DISCUSSIONS IN THE BOOK.

During one memorable scene in the prequel, Ichigo discusses the origins of the Japanese dish shabu-shabu before offing someone at dinner. It’s a smart way to introduce food chatter into the story by telling his intended victim what he will not be able to enjoy in the future.

6. AS A KID, BOURDAIN COLLECTED SOME TWISTED TALES.

The famed chef was a comic collector as a child, and he embraced a wide range of titles beyond superheroes. He loved ‘50s titles from EC, both horror and humor (MAD), for starters. “The [‘60s] undergrounds when they came in were really game-changing for me because they were just so obscene and violent, and I responded very positively to that,” says Bourdain. “You know, early [work by] R. Crumb and levels of violence that were not permissible in over-the-counter stuff.”

Bourdain was a child in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, after extreme violence had been excised from the comic book world following a slew of deliciously twisted comics titles in the first half of the ‘50s created an uproar and led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. “If you saw a few drops of blood, especially red blood, in a comic it was a big thing,” he says of his childhood years.

7. WORKING ON THE GET JIRO BOOKS UNLEASHED BOURDAIN'S CREATIVE BLOODLUST.

“One of my first notes was, ‘Whatever we do, I want arterial spray. A lot of blood,’” recalls Bourdain. “My constant refrain was ‘more blood, more blood, make sure there’s more blood.’”

“Anytime anybody asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ It was always, ‘Arterial spray,’” confirms Rose. “Every answer.”

8. THE PREQUEL WAS CONCEIVED DURING A TV INTERVIEW.

“When the first book came out, we were interviewed for a television thing,” recalls Rose. “The journalist said, ‘Wow, I’d really like to know what happened before to get Jiro to this place. What about a prequel?’ It was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’”

9. BOURDAIN AND ROSE LOVE AND RECOMMEND THE FOODIE MANGA OISHINBO.

Oishinbo is a Japanese series about characters in search of a perfect meal,” explains Bourdain. (Specifically, as The New Yorker describes, “Two rival Japanese newspapers compete to create a menu that will capture the essence of the country’s cuisine.”) “It’s a huge body of work [over 100 volumes] that is an incredibly detailed exploration of Japanese traditional cuisine. It is f**king awesome and was a huge inspiration for this series. I learned more from that series of manga than 30 years of eating Japanese food. They explain how they make miso and how sake is made. It’s a really detailed account of where food comes from, how it should be prepared, and what’s involved. It’s super nerdy and detail-oriented and just riveting.”

10. BOURDAIN APPRECIATES A WIDE RANGE OF COMIC BOOK TITLES.

“I collect Terry and the Pirates in hardcover,” reveals the chef. “I have every single Spirit story that Will Eisner did in one form or another. [Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. artist] Jim Steranko, his classic work. The Neal Adam Batmans turned [the series] around and made it dark and awesome again. Classic EC, early MADs. Harvey Kurtzman. And the Bay Area undergrounds—R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez—were huge, powerful influences on the way I saw the world."

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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