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The Secret of Star Wars Fandom

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Six feature films, three spinoff films, five television series, plus video games, books, and merchandise, plus a big chunk of the internet, all devoted to the Star Wars universe. There will always be movies with fans, but those who identify with Star Wars are so numerous, so prolific, and so vociferous, they redefine what it means to be a fan. For those of you who enjoyed the movies, but aren't rabid Star Wars fans (I'm more of the Star Trek type), here are some clues to how they feel. Andrey Summers summed up what makes Star Wars fans so different in The Complex and Terrifying Reality of Star Wars Fandom.

If you run into somebody who tells you they thought the franchise was quite enjoyable, and they very-much liked the originals as well as the prequels, and even own everything on DVD, and a few of the books, these imposters are not Star Wars Fans.

Star Wars fans hate Star Wars.

Let me count the ways...

Those who love the Star Wars universe the most spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing the movies. The biggest complaint is continuity. Although no one would have preferred the series to have been delayed twenty years, real fans cannot forgive George Lucas for producing movies before he had the whole story written. In 1977, Lucas said he had a grand plan for nine chapters. By the time Return of the Jedi was released, it was apparent he didn't start with a complete outline for the story arc.

Luke and Leia
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We didn't know which of the two heroes would get the girl in the first Star Wars movie. Lucas' choice in this matter was neatly explained away by making Luke and Leia into siblings. Eww. Episode Four never looked the same after you knew that. And it wasn't possible to edit out their earlier attraction. You'd think Obi-Wan would've said something, but he apparently forgot who the princess of Alderaan was.

Han Shot First
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In the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo kills a minor character named Greedo. When the 1997 Special Edition was released, this was changed to show Greedo shooting first. Lucas wanted Solo to be seen as a more of a hero and less of a rogue, because after all, he eventually got the girl. Fans saw this as rewriting history, like whitewashing your own Wikipedia entry, and cried foul. The explanation that Greedo shot first and missed (at point blank range) was unacceptable. When Lucas was spotted wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt, fans reacted with delight.

Chewbacca
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Chewbacca is a freedom fighter who is friends with Jedi Master Yoda in the prequels, but later is found to be a mercenary sidekick with no noticeable familiarity with Obi-Wan or the Jedi. You can explain using the familiar characters R2D2 and C3PO in the prequels by having their memories erased, but that won.t work with a Wookiee. Check out more continuity problems here.

Comic Characters

250jarjar.jpgStar Wars fans hated the Ewoks, because they were so cute and heroic, their entire reason for existence appeared to be toy sales.
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The character Jar Jar Binks took fans over the edge. Lucas denied that Jar Jar was a racial stereotype, but that's how he came across.
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Mitichlorians are microscopic characters first mentioned in The Phantom Menace. It seemed like a way to turn the supernatural Force into a biological science project. What's the fun in that?

Technology
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The implausibility of the technologies in the Star Wars universe isn't such a sore spot with fans as the continuity and character problems, but fans have fun deconstructing the science and technology of the movies. Even NASA has thought about the possibility of hyperdrive. Forums debate the physics of lightsabers. Jay Garmond figured up the necessary power for the Death Star laser. The million-to-one shot that destroyed the first Death Star not only stretched the limits of credulity, but led to conspiracy theories, as in Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job? And McSweeney's explained the implausibility of the Death Star's trash compactor.

In the end, Summers sums up how a Star Wars fan really feels:

Maybe I'll put it like this. To be a Star Wars fan, one must possess the ability to see a million different failures and downfalls, and then somehow assemble them into a greater picture of perfection. Every true Star Wars fan is a Luke Skywalker, looking at his twisted, evil father, and somehow seeing good.

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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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