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Confessions of a TV-holic: We Still Love Lucy

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Even if you've seen each episode 1,762 times, I Love Lucy fans still delight in "I didn't know that!" and "Did you notice that"¦?" moments. Here are a few of my favorite behind-the-scenes tidbits.

I Love LucyTVLand currently shows I Love Lucy with an edited version of the original opening credits, but the introduction most fans associate with the show is the elaborate script credits over a satin heart that was used when the show first went into syndication. Why were the original animated openings altered? Because they featured the Lucy and Ricky stick figures popping out of a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes, the show's sponsor. This is also why the word "lucky" was rarely included in a script "“ Lucky Strike was a major competitor of Philip Morris.

More Lucy trivia after the jump...

Job SwitchingLucille Ball's favorite episode is also a fan favorite: Job Switching, better known as the "Candy Factory" episode. The stone-faced silent woman working next to Lucy in this scene is Amanda Milligan, who wasn't an actress but an actual candy dipper whose full-time job was putting swirls on top of chocolates at See's Candy Factory. At one point during a break in filming, Lucille asked Amanda if she was enjoying her stint in "show business." Ms. Milligan replied, "To be honest, I've never been so bored in my life." She also admitted that she'd never seen I Love Lucy; she watched wrestling on Monday nights.

Thanks to a technique pioneered by Desi Arnaz and cinematographer Karl Freund, I Love Lucy was filmed in front of a live studio audience using a three-camera setup. As a result, each episode was filmed in sequence, much like a play (unlike other sitcoms of that era). Retakes were done only when necessary, so many "bloopers" made it to the final edit:

In Redecorating the Mertz's Apartment, Lucy fluffs her line while talking to Ricky during breakfast. Instead of saying "We'll paint the apartment," she says "We'll paint the furniture and reupholster the old furniture." (Desi ad-libs beautifully and rescues the scene.)

In The Dancing Star, Lucy is supposed to say "I danced with Van [Johnson]," but instead it came out "I vanced with Dan." Desi again covered the slip-up by muttering, "Vanced with Dan? She's gone." Later in this same episode, Lucy addresses co-star Vivian Vance as Viv instead of Ethel.

Lucy, Marco & DesiIn Ricky Loses His Voice, Desi asks piano player Marco Rizo to phone Lucy at home at tell her that he's coming home early. Despite it being his only line of dialogue in the episode, Marco forgets that he's dealing with Mr. Ricardo instead of Mr. Arnaz, and replies "Okay, Des" instead of "Okay, Ricky."

The closing credits of several episodes of the show misspell Desi's name, crediting the music to "The Dezi Arnaz Orchestra."

DeDe Ball, far leftLoyal viewers may recall having heard an audible "Uh-oh" or "Oh no!" from the studio audience during precarious situations in I Love Lucy. Those exclamations were uttered by DeDe Ball, Lucille's mother, who attended every taping of the show and whose proximity to the set made her voice easy to hear.

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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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