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Celebrity drunkards

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Here in the states, we like our flags stripey, our pies appley and our celebrities blotto. In fact, just as some of our tabloid royalty seem to be famous mostly for being famous (a certain heiress comes to mind), others are famous mostly for being drunk. Here are some of our favorite tipplers -- American and otherwise -- and what they have to say for themselves.

    "¢ Motion picture icon W.C. Fields. He said, "I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake... which I also keep handy."

  • American author F. Scott Fitzgerald loved the bottle, but during one of his drying-out periods, he had a conversation with his friend, humorist Robert Benchley: "Listen, Bob," Fitzgerald said. "Don't you know drinking is slow death?" Whereupon Benchley took a sip, smiled, and said, "So who's in a hurry?"
  • Legendary poet, author and leader of the famed Algonquin Round Table Dorothy Parker once famously spat this bit of slam poetry: "I like to have a Martini / Two at the very most / After three I'm under the table / After four I'm under my host."
  • Borrowing from Parker, quarry-voiced singer Tom Waits quipped "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." But Waits has plenty of his own material when it comes to knocking one back: In "Bad Liver and a Broken Heart," he sings "I don't have a drinking problem -- "˜cept when I can't get a drink."
  • On the day he died, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas said "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record."
  • Southern lit heavyweight William Faulkner said "The tools I need for my work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey."
  • After a lifetime of hard drinking, Winston "we shall never surrender" Churchill concluded that he had "taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
  • Former prime minister of Australia Bob Hawke has suggested that he owes much of his political success to his status as a world record holder for fast consumption of beer: he can put drain two and a half pints in eleven seconds. (I have to wonder, if "Fosters" is really "Australian for beer," then does "prime minister" also mean something other than what I think it does? Like, "fast beer drinker?")

Tomorrow: hangover remedies.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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