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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XVI

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Every Monday, mental_floss wanders into the archives of The New York Times "“ and wanders out with first mentions worth mentioning. In this episode, we take a look at the first time The Times discussed Woody Allen, the Titanic, and many more. If you have a suggestion for next time, leave us a comment.

Woody Allen

March 19, 1962

Young Men's Hebrew Association Presents 2nd Jazz Concert
woodyallen.jpeg On the bill were two well-established jazz groups...and a relatively unknown comedian, Woody Allen. It was the comedian who walked off with the honors for the evening.

Mr. Allen, who describes himself as "short and unloved," looks like a somewhat unkempt Wally Cox. A monologuist in the Mort Sahl style who ranges over almost every area except politics...he wandered off into what he apparently found to be more diverting topics...[for example] the problem of getting a divorce in New York ("The Ten Commandments say 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' but New York State says you have to").

Mr. Allen's quiet, underplayed style enabled him to get laughs with what might otherwise have been little more than casual remarks.

Barbara Walters

September 13, 1964

No More Girls
barbarawalters.jpg Al Morgan, producer of Today, said he would not engage another woman to succeed Maureen O'Sullivan. The actress had succeeded a long line of so-called Today girls, although the tag had not been attached to her. The era of Today girls apparently is ended. Mr. Morgan said he would make more use of women already familiar to Today viewers "“ Aline Saarinen for discussion on art and architecture, Judith Christ for motion-picture reviews and Barbara Walters for news reporting.

Keep reading for BoingBoing, The Lincoln Tunnel, Titanic, The Beastie Boys, 'A Tale of Two Cities' and Dog Biscuits.

BoingBoing

August 8, 1993

Seriously Wired
boingboing-logo.gifCan cyberpunk still be cool if it's on the Billboard charts? In fact, a minor hullabaloo did erupt when Billy Idol logged onto the Well, a computer bulletin board based in Sausalito, Calif., where people exchange information. He posted a computer address so that anyone could send him electronic mail. But apparently a bunch of cyberpunks felt that a pop star didn't belong in their rebel universe and started sending him nasty messages. One particularly self-righteous computer geek even takes pleasure in stuffing Mr. Idol's Well file with junk mail.

Mr. Idol has responded by saying they're elitist. Mark Frauenfelder, the former editor in chief of Boing Boing, a cyberpunk-oriented publication that calls itself "the world's greatest neurozine!" takes Mr. Idol's side. "It's stupid, because the whole cyberpunk thing is that information is supposed to be free," says Mr. Frauenfelder, who is now an editor at Wired, another computer magazine. "There are all these 16- and 17-year-old cyberpunks who are afraid that everybody's going to learn their secret handshake or something."

Titanic

March 7, 1909

Giant Ships That Promise 'The Last Word'
titanic.jpg These two vessels, the Olympic and the Titanic, are by far the greatest of any that have yet been considered, and as there is no near prospect of any future expansion of piers, these two giantesses will doubtless represent for many years to come the last word in marine architecture, particular that kind of architecture which runs to a tremendous bulk.
* * * * *
The new liners will be as complete in their safety devices as in their cabin accommodations....The bridge is thus instantly notified of any suspicion of danger, even in the most remote parts of the ship. The bridge will be like a great keyboard, ready at the officer's hands, by which he may control the vast complicated machinery of every part of the ship.

The Beastie Boys

December 29, 1986

The Beastie Boys, Rap-Metal Group
licensetoill.jpg On stage Friday at the Ritz, the Beastie Boys did their best to live up to ''Licensed to Ill.'' As they shouted rhymes, danced the ''Jerry Lewis'' and shambled around the stage, the Boys - wearing red, white and blue T-shirts - poured beer on one another's heads and spewed it into the audience. Meanwhile, two disk jockeys, Hurricane and Mr. Bill, played backup tracks (including a bit of the ''Mister Ed'' theme), a woman named Eloise danced in a cage, and unnamed bouncers repulsed the audience members who repeatedly climbed onstage.
* * * * *
The Beastie Boys aren't exactly original - they rap in the cadences of Run-D. M. C. - and compared to such calmly amoral rappers as Schooly D, they're virtually a comedy act. Yet for the moment, the Beastie Boys' crafty backup tracks and personal bravado promise to put sheer obnoxiousness back in the rock-and-roll spotlight.

Lincoln Tunnel

April 17, 1937

39th Street Tube Gets Name Of Lincoln
lincoln tunnel.jpg The new vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River between West Thirty-ninth Street, Manhattan, and Weehawken, N.J., will hereafter be known as the Lincoln Tunnel, the Port Authority announced yesterday.

The tunnel, now under construction, has thus far been called the Midtown Hudson Tunnel....Use of the name Midtown Hudson Tunnel, the Port Authority explained, has now become inadvisable because of confusion arising from the fact that work is now under way on a Queens-Midtown tunnel and plans are being pushed for a Midtown Manhattan Crosstown tube.

A Tale of Two Cities

March 9, 1859

dickens.jpgEnglish Literature and Art Gossip
The first number of Dickens' All the Year Round will be published about May 1. The title of his new story is A Tale of Two Cities and is considered felicitous. Since Little Dorrit, (which was a disappointment,) we have had only occasional interludes from Dickens' pen, and the curiosity evinced by the public in regard to the new story is an evidence that the popularity of the great novelist is at its height.

Dog Biscuits

June 3, 1883

Feeding Dogs
bailey_couch.jpg A dog should be fed twice a day. I purposely italicize the word "twice," for, although the breakfast should be but a light one, it is a necessity of healthful existence. If it be not given the bowels become confined; the bile is ejected into the stomach; the dog seeks grass, and relieves himself in a natural way of what nature designed as an aperient. A bit of dry dog-biscuit, or a drop of milk or a basin of sheep's-head broth, is all my own dogs ever have for breakfast. A dog should have his principal meal "“ with a run to follow "“ at 4 P.M. in the Winter and 5 in Summer. Variety and change from day to day are most essential. Dog-biscuits, dry or steeped, and mixed with the liquor that fresh meat or fish has been boiled in, with now and then oat-meal porridge, make a good staple of diet.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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