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The First Time News Was Fit To Print (Greatest Hits)

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The New York Times archives were in the news last week, with The Times announcing the elimination of TimesSelect. Not everything is free, but it's a start. And once they start swimming in ad revenue from the newly accessible material, I'd imagine we'll see even more free stuff.

So, I figured this was a good time to look back at a few interesting first mentions from our running feature, "The First Time News Was Fit To Print." The Walkman is still my favorite, especially when compared to the lack of enthusiasm for the iPod twenty-one years later.

Walkman

July 7, 1980

walkman.jpgStereo-to-Go "“ And Only You Can Hear It
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.

Donald Trump

January 28, 1973

D_Trump.jpgBuilder Looks Back But Moves Ahead
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."

iPod

October 24, 2001

iPod.jpgApple Introduces What It Calls an Easier to Use Portable Music Player
Apple Computer introduced a portable music player today and declared that the new gadget, called the iPod, was so much easier to use that it would broaden a nascent market in the way the Macintosh once helped make the personal computer accessible to a more general audience. But while industry analysts said the device appeared to be as consumer friendly as the company said it was, they also pointed to its relatively limited potential audience, around seven million owners of the latest Macintosh computers. Apple said it had not yet decided whether to introduce a version of the music player for computers with the Windows operating system, which is used by more than 90 percent of personal computer users.

Microwave Oven

March 31, 1949

earlymicrowave.jpgNew Improvements to Electronic Range Reported as Overcoming Present Faults
Though the electronic range that cuts cooking time from hours to minutes will not be possible for home kitchens for several years, one of it chief drawbacks is being overcome"¦.The new combination of "regular" electricity with microwave energy will enable products to brown and to crust as well as cook through. One will bake bread in a matter of minutes without any sacrifice of the delicious crisp surface. incidentally, with this new oven it will be possible to use metal pans, something that cannot be done with other similar appliances, in which glass and paper utensils are used.

Gatorade

August 27, 1967

Chocolate-Flavored Soft Drinks And Slush Are Selling Briskly
gatorade_bottle.jpg Perhaps the most unusual soft drink to be announced in some years is a lemon-lime- flavored product called Gatorade, which will be produced by Stokely-Van Camp, Inc., food packer of Indianapolis. The new product, not yet on the market, is a water solution of glucose, inorganic salts and flavorings and was designed to quench thirst, particularly during periods of physical exertion. It has been tested in Florida by the University of Florida athletes to quench their thirst in training periods and during actual competition. It is said by Stokely-Van Camp to be absorbed by the body 12 times faster than water.

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:
times.jpg 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

Hillary Clinton (Hillary Rodham)

June 15, 1969

hillary.jpgA Program For Pacifying The Campus
A 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."

Marijuana

November 21, 1926

Marijuana Smoking Is Reported Safe
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.

New York Jets

April 16, 1963

Titans Get A New Coach (Ewbank) And A New Name (Jets)
NYJets.jpgWilbur (Weeb) Ewbank, as expected, was appointed yesterday as coach and general manager of New York's American Football League team for three years. But the name he will be expected to cover with gridiron glory was, unexpectedly, announced as the Jets. It used to be the Titans. The Jets, which rhymes with Mets, was selected from more than 300 possible names submitted by friends, enemies and advertising agencies.
* * * * *
The Jets symbolizes the site of Shea Stadium (where the Jets think they'll play this fall) between two major airports, the spirit of modern times and the speed and eagerness of all concerned. Gothams, Borros and Dodgers were other leading contenders. Dodgers was discarded because the baseball people were not in favor. Borros (a pun on boroughs) was discarded because there was fear the team would be called the jackasses, and Gothams was dismissed because someone said that it would be shortened to Goths "“ "and you know they weren't such nice people."

McDonald's

October 6, 1963

mcd_logo.jpgFranchises Lure Wide Investment
The 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.

John F. Kennedy

February 24, 1938*

JFK6.jpgKennedy Departs
Joseph P. Kennedy, new United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James, sailed for his post yesterday"¦.His five daughters and three of his four sons were at the pier to wish him bon voyage. John F. Kennedy, who is in Harvard, had caught cold while training for the swimming team and was not present.

* JFK was previously mentioned several times, including an August 1936 recap of Westhampton sailing results. He finished last if you don't count Patrick O'Gorman, who didn't finish at all. His cold was, to me, far more interesting. Plus I'd transcribed that paragraph before realizing it wasn't the first mention of JFK. So it stays. With an asterisk.

See Also: The Greatest Hits of 2008

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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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