CLOSE
Original image

The First Time News Was Fit To Print, VI

Original image

Let's try this again. I've gone back into The New York Times archives to find the first mentions of a few random subjects.

Times Square
March 23, 1904

Times Triangle, Times Square: New Names for Long Acre Square Suggested by a Reader of This Newspaper
To the Editor of The New York Times:
When the new building of The New York Times shall be completed and become a thing of art and beauty in that section of the city in which it is to stand, why would it not be fitting that the space about the edifice be called "Times Triangle" or "Times Square," though perhaps it may not be a square? It is, it seems, more euphonious than "Long Acre Square," and very soon would become as well known as "Printing House Square" or "Herald Square." No doubt the Board of Aldermen would take up such a suggestion at the proper time and act upon it favorably. Can it not be entertained?

-J.W.C. Corbusier

Mickey Mouse*
November 16, 1930

The Censor!
Although there is no morality clause in the contract of Mickey Mouse, that vivacious rodent of the animated screen cartoons must lead a model life on the screen to meet the approval of censorship boards all over the world. Mickey does not drink, smoke or cut any suggestive capers. Walt Disney, his creator, must be hypercritical of his own work to avoid wounding various national dignities.

mickey_mouse.jpg Recently a Mickey Mouse cartoon was banned in Ohio because a cow, one of the rodent's playmates, was reading a copy of Elinor Glyn's Three Weeks. An austere German censor ruled as follows on one strip: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused."

Keep reading for Dave Eggers, Marijuana, The Real World and Googling.

Dave Eggers
February 1, 2000

Clever Young Man Raises Sweet Little Brother
by Michiko Kakutani
Dave Eggers's new book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is part autobiography, part postmodern collage, a novelistic "memoir-y kind of thing" that tells the sad, awful, tragic story of how the author's mother and father died within weeks of each other and how he became a surrogate parent to his 8-year-old brother, and tells it with such style and hyperventilated, self-conscious energy, such coy, Lettermanesque shtick and such genuine, heartfelt emotion, that the story is at once funny, tender, annoying and, yes, heartbreaking -- an epic, in the end, not of woe, though there's plenty of that too, but an epic about family and how families fracture and fragment and somehow, through all the tumult and upset, manage to endure.
eggers.gif
It's the sort of book David Foster Wallace, Frank McCourt and Tom Wolfe might have written together if Mr. Wallace had never heard of Thomas Pynchon, if Mr. McCourt didn't grow up poor in Ireland but middle-class in the suburbs of Chicago, if Tom Wolfe weren't the sort of writer who wears white suits and ice-cream colored shirts but were a 20-something slacker with a taste for shorts and T-shirts and lots of postmodern pyrotechnics.

Marijuana
November 21, 1926

Marijuana Smoking Is Reported Safe
About a year ago there was considerable comment on the fact that this weed was being grown in the public parks of New York City by a group said to be Mexicans. Sunday newspaper features are still being printed about the fearful consequences of using this allegedly habit-forming and dreadful weed.

just_say_no.jpg An investigation made by a special committee...raises grave doubts as to the effects produced by smoking marijuana...which is the Latin-American name for the hemp and is probably a combination of the names Mary and Jane in Spanish, Maria y Juana.
Some articles by men of supposed scientific knowledge were based on sources other than actual experiment, and the authors of some apparently learned monographs on the use of marijuana had never seen a subject under the influence of the weed, nor did they know of first-hand knowledge of the dire results alleged to be due to its use, according to the committee.

The Real World
March 22, 1992

Barefoot in the Loft: A Real New York Story
by N.R. Kleinfield
realworld.jpgWhat you had here were seven young people living their lives, except for the fact that their activities were being videotaped -- the good, the bad and the humiliating. Starting on May 23, viewers will be able to catch the edited results in a 13-episode weekly series on MTV, titled The Real World....Pretty much anything is fair game, including their excursions to work and outside play. Guests are allowed. MTV is praying hard that someone will fall in love (they're still waiting), and it fully hopes there will be some youthful friction. If someone gets clobbered with a pot, hey, that's real life. All in all, it would be something of a melding of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Biosphere 2.

"Googling"
August 29, 2001

Liberties; The Manolo Moochers
by Maureen Dowd
googlelogo1.gifDating these days involves a lot more preparation than spraying, glossing and gargling. A thoroughly modern young lady might be found Paxiling herself, Googling her date, Bikramming her body and pondering The Offering. She might pop a social-anxiety pill to chill; check to see if her suitor's name pops up on the Internet search engine Google; take hot, sweaty yoga in a 100-degree classroom; and plot the offering, as girls call the moment when they make an insincere effort to help pay the check. In the 70's, splitting the check was liberating. Now it's a test.

Keep the suggestions coming. You can read the first five 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
The First Time News Was Fit To Print, V

*This is actually the second mention of Mickey Mouse. But the first was in passing and not at all funny.

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

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES