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007 Behind-the-Scenes Facts About Skyfall

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Skyfall — the 23rd entry in the James Bond franchise and the third to star Daniel Craig — hit U.S. theaters today, and critics are awarding it some of the highest marks in the series' 50-year history. But Skyfall's four-year production was nearly as convoluted and intriguing as the film that eventually resulted. Here, 007 fascinating behind-the-scenes facts about Skyfall:

001. Daniel Craig drunkenly offered Sam Mendes the chance to direct — without the producers' permission

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Skyfall first got off the ground when franchise star Daniel Craig bumped into director Sam Mendes at Hugh Jackman's 2009 birthday party in New York City. When Mendes tossed off a few casual remarks about how he would direct the next 007 film, Craig impulsively offered him the job. "I'd had a few too many drinks and I completely overstepped the line and said, 'Why don't you do it'?" said Craig. "And Sam said, 'Why not?'" Fortunately, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson agreed.

002. It almost wasn't called Skyfall

After 22 films, producers had exhausted almost all of Bond author Ian Fleming's original titles, necessitating the invention of a wholly original title for the first time in Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond. While toiling for months under the workmanlike moniker Bond 23, producers considered the titles Silver Bullet, A Killing Moon, and Once Upon a Spy, finally settling on the terse, dramatic Skyfall.

003. Sean Connery's name came up in early casting brainstorms

Albert Finney delivers a pivotal turn as a figure from 007's childhood in Skyfall's final act, but another well-respected British actor was once mentioned for the role: Sean Connery. "There was a definite discussion about that," says director Sam Mendes, who ultimately decided that having a former Bond share the screen with Craig would prove too distracting: "Connery is Bond and he's not going to come back as another character."

004. It was timed to coincide with important dates in franchise history

Mendes was determined to make a Bond entry that hearkened back to the roots of the series, which began with 1962's Dr. No starring Connery. Consequently, several cast members, including series newcomers such as Berenice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, and Javier Bardem, were confirmed at a press conference held exactly 50 years after Sean Connery was announced as the original 007. And Skyfall's official theme song, as performed by Adele, was released 50 years to the day after Dr. No's release date in England — at 00:07 London time.

005. Whenever possible, Mendes avoided CGI

In keeping with Skyfall's retro feeling, Mendes insisted on using practical effects instead of CGI when he could. As a result, the movie gets by with only 500 CGI shots — far fewer than the count for other recent action hits like The Avengers, which boasts more than 2,200 effects shots.

006. Adele's theme song brought Craig to tears

According to director Mendes, British crooner Adele accepted the offer to write the film's title single reluctantly, worrying, "I write songs about myself, how can I make a Bond song?" But the soulful tune she eventually delivered managed to bring 007 himself to tears. "I cried," Daniel Craig told Yahoo! Movies. "From the opening bars I knew immediately, then the voice kicked in and it was exactly what I'd wanted from the beginning."

007. At least two more Daniel Craig-starring Bond films are on the way

In the wake of Skyfall's enormous success with both critics and international audiences, producers have made a deal with Skyfall writer John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator) to pen two more Bond films with a single plot arc, says Deadline, the first 007 storyline to be played out over multiple movies. The films would be shot back-to-back, which means it likely won't take another four years before Bond 24 and Bond 25 — whatever their final titles turn out to be — are ready for release.

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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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