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In the Beginning: Today we're seeing Red

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Well, almost. With just 3 (three!) days to go until our new book's release, mental_floss is happy to present another origin story you're bound to dig. Enjoy!

The Red Carpet

IMG_1571.preview.JPGIf you want a black and white explanation for the public obsession with celebrity, it helps to start by understanding the red.

Great Feets

Hollywood actors are often considered American royalty, and as it turns out, they have the carpeting to match. The first mention of the red carpet we could find dates back to the story of Agamemnon, written by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in 485 BCE. In the play, Mycenaean King Agamemnon's wife tricks him into walking across a red carpet fit only for the "feet of the gods."Red-tinted colors, especially deep purplish reds, were especially admired in the early Greek and Roman societies because they were both expensive and scarce. In fact, throughout recorded history, royals and others of high rank have used the colors red and purple to symbolize how important and wealthy they were. The use of the red carpet appeared again in the 1600s, when Jahangir, a Mughal emperor, visited his brother-in-law on New Year's Day. His brother-in-law carpeted the road from the palace to his house with gold brocades and rich velvets to prevent his royal feet from ever touching the ground.

Americans See Red

Over time, rolling out the red carpet for special or honored people trickled down from royalty. In1821, U.S. president James Monroe became the first to receive the treatment with a red carpet rolled out to the river to guide his path.

more after the jump...

New York Central's luxury train, the 20th Century Limited, debuted in 1902 establishing the "redcarpet treatment" not only for royals and dignitaries but for anyone receiving special treatment. The train traveled the smooth water-level route from New York to Chicago and the railroad rolled out a red carpet to welcome passengers onto the train.As for Hollywood, the red carpet first emerged in 1922 when the famous exhibitor Sid Grauman opened up the Egyptian Theatre (seven years before the first Academy Awards ceremony). And while the Academy Awards have become the best known use of the red carpet in history, with virtually every famous starwalking its length at one time or another, the question remains: So, how does Oscar's red carpet arrive each year?

The answer is: not very glamorously, but plenty safe, in dozens of rolls wrapped in plastic on flat bed trucks. Strangely enough, the actual shade of red is a secret, designed by the academy to be a slightly purplish red that appears more reddish on TV.

Rolling It Out

Though the process of rolling out a carpet sounds like it would be simple enough, the process takes hours of meticulous labor. The crew unrolls the rugs on their hands and knees, then cuts the edges with a huge putty knife to make sure they match perfectly. Another worker follows the process to scoop up the remnants to make sure they can't be stolen for color copying or eBay sales. In all, it takes more than 20 men a full two days to install the carpet (including ironing every seam after everything is in place). Just like celebrities keep stylists on hand in case of emergency, so does the carpet itself. One expert always appears at the show in tuxedo to ensure that the carpet looks its best and never forms a rumple that might trip someone famous. In all, the modern-day film stars probably receive a more detailed and luxurious red carpet welcome than most monarchs or dignitaries in history.

51yai+MKH5L._AA240_.jpgCan't wait the 3 days for In the Beginning? Pre-order your copy at any of these fine stores today: Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-A-Million. Oh, and if you e-mail us your proof of purchase at newsletters@mentalfloss.com, we'll send you an autographed sticker to place in the book!

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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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