Original image

John Candy Was Born (and other historical Halloween happenings)

Original image

Today we're treating you to some of the more interesting and coincidental events to occur on this day in history. While you all know today is Halloween, you may not know that on this date...

-Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Palace church in 1517.

-John Keats, who later wrote a sonnet titled "Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition," was baptized in 1795.

-Nevada, a state now known for the revelry and costumes of Las Vegas, became the 36th state in 1864. (===>)

-Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" was published in 1892.

pooh.jpg -In 1912, Oliver Martin Johnson, Jr. was born. As one of Disney's "Nine Old Men," Johnson worked on films such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Pan," "One Hundred and One Dalmatians," "Robin Hood," and "The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh," all of which have inspired hundreds of Halloween costumes around the world. (===>)

magician.jpg-The master of magic, Harry Houdini died of peritonitis in 1926.

-In 1933, many cities in America suffered great destruction at the hands of mischief-making adolescent boys. The day became known as "Black Hallowe'en," and many cities formed committees to prevent such destruction from happening again.

-Orson Welles, in 1938, expressed "deep regret" for the confusion caused by his presentation of "War of the Worlds" on the previous day. He was also bewildered, though, that people actually believed the alien invasion was real.

woodsy.jpg -Chicago once attempted to abolish Halloween, with the City Council voting unanimously for October 31, 1942, to be declared "Conservation Day." (Nobody declared you should dress up as Woodsy the Conservation Owl. But it's an option. ===>)

-Canadian comedian and actor John Candy was born in 1950.

-In 1964, Helen Pfeil distributed ant poison, steel-wool pads, and dog biscuits as Halloween "treats" to older children in New York. Her case is the first recorded incident of Halloween candy tampering.

-Ronald O'Bryan poisoned his child's Halloween candy in 1974. He was indicted for his 8-year-old son's murder, as well as for the attempted murder of his 5-year-old daughter and three other children. Supposedly, he did it for the $38,000 insurance on his children.

-Marijuana-stuffed Snickers bars were accidentally handed out to children in Hercules, Calif., in 2000. The candy had landed in the dead-mail office and was handed out by an employee, who was unaware that the candy was an attempt to mail marijuana to San Francisco.

Previously on mental_floss:

"¢ Don't miss your chance to win a Gummi Bear-inspired light!
"¢ What's your Halloween Giveaway Strategy?
Ten Epic Costumes
Gruesome Party Food
DIY Decorations.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]