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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XIII

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Every Monday, mental_floss ventures into the The New York Times archives to find first mentions worth mentioning. Got a suggestions for next week's installment? Leave it in the comments.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

April 13, 1975

Bodybuilding: Is it Sport? Art?
arnold.jpg"You don't really see a muscle as a part of you, in a way. You see it as a thing. You look at it as a thing and you say, well, this thing has to be built a little longer, the bicep has to be longer, or the tricep has to be thicker here in the elbow area. And you look at it and it doesn't even seem to belong ot you. Like a sculpture. Then, after looking at it, a sculptor goes in with this thing and works a little bit, and you do, maybe then some extra forced reps to get this lower part out. You form it. Just like sculpture."

* * * * *
"It's like you have a little BMW "“ you want to race the hell out of this car because you know it's just going 110. But if you see guys driving a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, they slide around at 60 on the freeway because they know if they press on that accelerator they are going to go 170. These things are the same in every field."

"“ Arnold Schwarzenegger


April 9, 1899

NY1890s.jpgThe Taxicabs
One taxicab company, in spite of all the popular clamor for cheaper fares, has raised its rates, so that a ride of two miles, if the meter works properly and the chauffeur is honest, will cost $1.30. We fear it will turn out to be like advertised hotel rates, $1.30 "and up." The chauffeur's fee is still to be considered.
* * * * *
It would be better for the companies to practice economies; to secure honest chauffeurs, to guard against taximeter errors; than to raise the rate of fares. We have all been dreaming of the establishment of a cheap cab system. We still have nothing cheaper than a livery stable horse coupe.

Keep reading for hippies, Nude Beer, 'American as apple pie,' the Colorado Rockies and more.


April 23, 1961

magicsinging.jpgHippies And Beats
The Magic of Their Singing [by Bernard Wolfe] is a short, complex presentation of a new breed of American personality, lobotomized by hipsterism. For this hipster-type every second counts (for what?) The cut of one's jib and the position of the vent in the J. Press jacket are crucial. So are the complicated conversations with condensed meanings and sensual adventures that require new labels.
* * * * *
Using a style compounded of puns, inside jokes, cabalistic and mythical allusions, neo-Joycean syllogisms, dialectic, monologue and duologue, some lovely surrealism, and powerful barrel-chested "straight" polemical writing on love, lust, work, politics and the semantics of violence, Wolfe's new book details a week-end in the lives of a group of hippies and beats in Connecticut and New York City.


December 27, 1999

Madison Avenue Plays The Millennium For Laughs
evite.jpg The second millennium is ending not with a bang or a whimper but with a sales pitch.

Madison Avenue has embraced millennial marketing with the fervor of a zealot -- albeit one who has banished apocalyptic intimations in favor of the world view articulated by Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman: "What, me worry?"
* * * * *
Those preparing for the worst on New Year's Day are deemed, well, a couple zeroes shy of a millennial milestone. A commercial for McDonald's, for instance, shows a man eagerly stockpiling supplies in his storm cellar -- not water and canned goods, but french fries and ketchup.
* * * * *
Similarly, an ad for, a World Wide Web site offering invitations via e-mail, declares, "This New Year's Eve, make sure you invite some friends over to clutch in terror when the world ends.'"

Nude Beer

October 30, 1988

nude-beer.jpgNew Beer Makes A Pitch For The Upscale Market
Seven years ago Nude Beer was made for Golden Beverage by New Jersey's only contract brewery, the Eastern Brewing Corporation in Hammonton. John F. Vasallo Jr., director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said the division called a halt to sales in New Jersey because it was deemed inappropriate to have a label that could be rubbed off to reveal a nude woman.

Now that Lion has the contract, Nude Beer is distributed in 14 states that have no such restrictions.

'Emerging Voting Bloc'

June 21, 1983

Stay Home, Rising Star
russert_cuomo.jpg In any case, it's not difficult to understand why political writers have been drawn to Mario Cuomo. He embodies that rare combination of an old-fashioned liberal who has traditional, conservative family values "“ calling for compassion for the needy and afflicted while inveighing against a lack of discipline in American life. He is an articulate, sometimes inspirational orator whose speeches are written mostly by himself. Also, on a national ticket he could bring with him a large and emerging voting bloc "“ Italian-Americans.
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And last - though not to be overlooked - is the fact that his political strategist is a man he wooed from his job as Senator Moynihan's top aide, Timothy Russert, whose lines to the Washington tastemakers are strong.

Colorado Rockies (NHL team)

September 1, 1976

rockies.jpgRockies Name Wilson As Coach
The Colorado Rockies, based in Denver, the newest franchise in the National Hockey League, named Johnny Wilson as head coach yesterday.

[Note: The Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey and became the Devils in 1982. Other names considered: Americans, Blades, Coastals, Colonials, Generals, Gulls, Jaguars, Meadowlanders, Meadowlarks and Patriots.]

Colorado Rockies (baseball team)

June 11, 1991

Coors And Partners Give Baseball To Wild West
rockies1.jpgA franchise here will give major league baseball a new time zone, a convenient stopover between the Midwest and the West Coast, and a stake in the nation's great Wild West.

Indeed, promoters of a Denver franchise talk of a regional team that will cultivate loyalties from Kansas to Utah, Wyoming to New Mexico.

If baseball executives had any doubt about the intentions here, the chimes at City Hall played "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," during the executives' evaluation visit in March. And schoolchildren were arranged in the shape of a baseball as the helicopter for the franchise committee flew over.
* * * * *
Newspapers here have conducted polls on a favored name for a new team. The clear favorite is the Denver Bears, the former name of the minor league team here, now called the Zephyrs.

But promoters say that could cause trademark problems and confusion with the Chicago Bears football team. Among the names the promoters favor: the Colorado Rockies.

'American as Apple Pie'

July 22, 1928

Mrs. Hoover, Too, Has Served The Nation
LouHoover2.jpg Mrs. Hoover was not only a good but an inveterate home-maker. She created abiding places one after the other in Peking, Tientsin, Tong Shan "“ where she was the only resident white woman "“ in Tokio, Leningrad, or St. Petersburg, as it was then; in Kalgorli and Broken Hill, Australia; in romantic Mandalay, and between times in less exotic places such as London and Paris. All were, as one guest put it, "as American as apple pie or corn pone," and through them all ran the motif of the eventual rest home...Mrs. Hoover finally built in 1921 at Palo Alto, overlooking the campus of Stanford.

Previously on The First Time News Was Fit To Print:

"¢ Volume I: Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, iPod
"¢ Volume II: Hillary Clinton, Starbucks, McDonald's
"¢ Volume III: JFK, Microwave Oven, the Internet
"¢ Volume IV: Larry David, Drudge Report, Digital Camera
"¢ Volume V: Walkman, Osama bin Laden, Iowa Caucuses
"¢ Volume VI: Times Square, Marijuana, Googling
"¢ Volume VII: Lance Armstrong, Aerosmith, Gatorade
"¢ Volume VIII: Bob Dylan, New York Jets, War on Terror
"¢ Volume IX: Hedge Fund, White Collar Crime, John Updike
"¢ Volume X: E-mail, Bruce Springsteen, George Steinbrenner
"¢ Volume XI: RFK, the Olsen Twins, Digg
"¢ Volume XII: Jerry Seinfeld, Lee Harvey Oswald, Don Mattingly

T.jpgYou need not rely on us to find The First Time News Was Fit To Print. Get complete access to the The New York Times archives when you become an NYT subscriber.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]