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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, II

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Using my all-access pass to The New York Times archives, I've once again pulled up the first mentions of newsworthy topics. (Here's the first installment.) Many of today's items were requested last time around. You best believe this will become a trilogy, so keep those requests coming.

Donald Trump
January 28, 1973

The big change in Fred Trump's operations in recent years is the advent of his son, Donald....Donald, who was graduated first in his class from the Wharton School of Finance of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, joined his father about five years ago. He has what his father calls "drive." He also possesses, in his father's judgment, business acumen. "Donald is the smartest person I know," he remarked admirably. "Everything he touches turns to gold."

Hillary Clinton (Hillary Rodham)
June 15, 1969

hillary.jpgA student spokesman at Wellesley responded with anger when Senator Edward Brooke called it foolish "to propound demands for social change in a vacuum, oblivious to the substantial changes already in progress."
"We feel," said Hillary D. Rodham, president of the Wellesley College Government Association, "that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge is to practice politics as the art of making what appears impossible, the possible."

Wikipedia
September 20, 2001

wiki.jpgFor all the human traffic that the Web attracts, most sites remain fairly solitary destinations. People shop by themselves, retrieve information alone and post messages that they hope others will eventually notice. But some sites are looking for ways to enable visitors not only to interact but even to collaborate to change the sites themselves. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com) is one such site, a place where 100 or so volunteers have been working since January to compile a free encyclopedia. Using a relatively unknown and simple software tool called Wiki, they are involved in a kind of virtual barn-raising.

AIDS
December 10, 1982

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported yesterday that an infant who had received blood transfusions developed a serious immune-deficiency disease that has principally afflicted homosexuals.

The child had received multiple transfusions of blood and blood products, including a transfusion from a man who later proved to have acquired immune deficiency syndrome, called AIDS, The disorder has been linked primarily to homosexual men. The child died at the age of 20 months from infections related to the immune deficiency.

Starbucks
June 22, 1977

logo_starbucks.jpgThe Starbucks Coffee Company, Washington State's largest coffee roaster, announced a retail price cut of 50 cents a pound on all its coffee. Jerry Baldwin, president, said it was also reducing its price to wholesale customers by 30 cents a pound. Starbucks supplies specialty stores, restaurants and food cooperatives throughout the Western states.

Global Warming
December 21, 1969

Scientists have warned the human race that it is running the risk of allowing pollution to destroy life in the oceans and to alter the earth's climate by raising temperatures....J.O. Fletcher, a physical scientist for the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California, said that man had "only a few decades to solve the problem" of global warming caused by pollution.

Nintendo
October 8, 1955

NintendoKanji.jpgAmong the notices of trademark applications published this week is one from the Nintendo Playing Card Company, Ltd., Kyoto City, Japan. The notice explains that one of the Japanese characters in the mark means "happiness, fortune or wealth." Three other characters, pronounced "nintendo," are harder to translate. They constitute a fanciful expression having no precise dictionary meaning either in Japanese or English, but the application gives them the approximate sense of "a corporation whose fortune or prosperity should be left to the mercy of heaven." Evidently heaven has smiled on the Nintendo Company, because it has been using the mark since 1887.

McDonald's
October 6, 1963

mcd_logo.jpgThe lure to the individual or small businessman is that by investing a little money and lots of time, he can derive the benefits of a widely known name, cooperative advertising, "protected" territories and a cram course on how to run the business. A coast-to-coast chain, McDonald's Hamburgers, gives its franchisees a three-week course in everything from advertising to janitoring.

T.jpgWant complete access to The New York Times archives, which go all the way back to 1851? Become an NYT subscriber.

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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
entertainment
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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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