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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, V

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Walkman
July 7, 1980

Josh Lansing and the young blonde woman had never even met before, but as they passed each other on Madison Avenue the other afternoon, she waved and smiled and he tipped his headphones in salute....What the two well-dressed strangers first noticed about each other was that they were both possessors of the newest status symbol around town: the Walkman, a portable stereo unit (priced in most stores at $200), consisting of an ultra-light headphone set plugged into a cassette player that weighs in at less than 14 ounces, batteries included. "It's just like Mercedes-Benz owners honking when they pass each other on the road," explained Mr. Lansing, whose cassette hung from his Gucci belt.

Osama Bin Laden
December 24, 1994

binladen.jpgAt a time when an increasing number of militant groups are finding a haven in the Sudan, many see the Khartoum Government's assistance to the Algerian rebels as the most serious challenge to Western security interests in the region since the Islamic regime seized power here in a 1989 coup....Osama Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi financier who bankrolls Islamic militant groups from Algeria to Saudi Arabia, also lives under heavy guard in Khartoum. Western diplomats also note that there have been repeated instances of Sudanese terrorists turning up in international conflicts.

Keep reading for more first mentions, including the Iowa Caucuses, Johnny Carson and Pearl Jam.

Nerf
December 13, 1970

nerf.jpegTopper's Dawn doll was one of the year's best sellers in toys, as were other toys heavily advertised on television like Mattel's Hot Wheels (miniature cars), Parker's Nerf ball (an "indoor" ball), Remco's Dune Buggy Wheelies, Marx's Big Wheel (tricycles) and Kenner's SSP Racers.

Iowa Caucuses
January 26, 1972

Muskie.jpgSenator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine won the largest share of the delegates in last night's Iowa precinct caucuses, late returns showed yesterday. But the victory of the Maine Democrat, widely considered the front-runner for his party's Presidential nomination, was clouded by the unexpectedly strong showing of Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Mr. McGovern, who won the support of only 3 percent of Democrats nationally in the most recent Gallup Poll, got seven times that in this state.

Johnny Carson
June 9, 1955

johnnycarson.jpgJohnny Carson, comedian, will be starred in a new show to be presented over the Columbia Broadcasting System television network beginning Thursday, June 30, from 10 to 10:30pm. Barbara Ruick, singer and actress, will be a featured performer. The series will be sponsored by the General Foods Corporation and the Revlon Products Corporation.

Pearl Jam & Smashing Pumpkins
November 14, 1991

pearlJam-Time.jpgThe [Red Hot Chili Peppers] concert's two opening bands reflected the current collegiate audience's rediscovery of the early 1970's, just before the bashing and pounding of the hardest psychedelic rock was frozen into heavy metal. Pearl Jam, from Seattle, socks along like a latter-day version of Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready on guitars diligently work the wah-wah pedals while Eddie Vedder agonizes, in a foreboding baritone, over feelings of uncertainty and displacement, wondering, "Where do I stand?"

corgan.jpgSmashing Pumpkins, from Chicago, throw more old ingredients into the mix, like the occasional folk-rock guitar lick, a raga drone or a lead vocal reminiscent of Neil Young. Its songs meander from pummeling hard rock to gentle interludes to psychedelic crescendos. While the band's album, "Gish" (Caroline), puts the pieces together smoothly, onstage Billy Corgan's crack-voiced singing was mannered and the songs' proportions seemed to be out of whack, making them episodic rather than securely eccentric.

Keep the suggestions coming. You can read the first four installments here:
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, I
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, II
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, III
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, IV

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
technology
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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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