CLOSE
Original image

The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XXI

Original image

Every Monday, mental_floss finds the first time The New York Times mentioned select topics. If you have a suggestion for our next episode, leave us a comment.

Books on Tape

February 20, 1977

cassette.jpgCatching Up With the Classics
Want to catch up on your reading while driving cross-country? Or dip into the classics while sunning with eyes closed on a secluded Caribbean beach? A California outfit called Books on Tape makes it happen.

Described as the "thinking man's answer to CB radio," Books on Tape was conceived in Los Angeles a few years back to aid long-haul commuters avoid "cerebral atrophy" occasioned by long traffic tie-ups on freeways.
* * * * *
Clients are able to rent the cassettes at fees ranging from $6.50 to $7.50 for a complete work, based on a one-month rental period, plus $1.75 for postage and handling. If one had to buy the tapes, the purchase price would be somewhere around $50.

Keep reading for Tina Fey, Blog, Blogs, Andy Pettitte and Bobblehead Dolls...

Condoleeza Rice (one 'z')

June 1, 1990

Faces of the Summit: The Supporting Cast
rice.jpgCondoleeza Rice "“ Senior director for Soviet affairs on the National Security Council staff . . . A former associate professor of political science at Stanford University . . . At the age of 35, one of the youngest senior officials in the White House and one of the few women to hold a senior position there . . . Assigned to travel with Mr. Gorbachev to Minneapolis and San Francisco . . . Has a doctoral degree in international studies from the University of Denver . . . Worked on strategic nuclear policy at the Joint Chiefs of Stafffrom 1986-87.

Condoleezza Rice (correct spelling)

June 18, 1989

The Great Beyond
''NOW IT IS TIME TO MOVE beyond containment,'' President Bush told the Texas A & M graduating class on May 12, 1989, ''to a new policy for the 1990's - one that recognizes the full scope of change taking place around the world and in the Soviet Union itself.''

In subsequently defining his foreign policy, the President has quoted himself saying those words - ''I call it 'beyond containment' '' -evidence that he considers the phrase the one that he wants to be used in any labeling of his foreign policy. White House staffers tell me, in passionate anonymity, that (contrary to the claims from Foggy Bottom) the persons who put the idea on paper before the President are Robert Blackwill, the European and Soviet Affairs man at the National Security Council, and Condoleezza Rice, the resident Sovietologist.

Tina Fey

November 8, 1998

tinafey.jpgA Talk Show for an Indelicate Age
Saturday Night Live, which has been lampooning The View in a recurring skit since late last year, already counts the routine among its classics. "It's great material for us, because we really don't have to heighten the reality much to make it absurd," said Tina Fey, one of the writers who created the sketch. She knew The View was ripe for parody the moment she saw Ms. Vieira give Wesley Snipes a spontaneous lap dance on air.

Blog

April 16, 2001

'Blog' Technology to Be Licensed
Trellix, which lets clients like About.com provide site-building tools and Web server space to their users, plans to announce today that it has licensed from Pyra Labs technology that provides an easy and fast way to publish a personal site known as a Web log or "blog."

Blogs

February 25, 2002

Internet Experts Wonder if Weblog Technology Is a Powerful New Media Species, or Just Another Fad
awaymsg.jpgFor the last two years or so, so-called Weblogs have slowly built a following among Internet users who like to dash off a few random thoughts, post them on a Web site and read similar musings by others. In the last two months, the universe of Weblogs has grown more quickly, with mainstream media analysts praising ''blogs,'' as the sites are known, for bringing a new type of expression to the Internet, and perhaps undermining the hegemony of global media giants.

But is this a truly new media species, with the power to command the attention of big Internet media companies? Or is it simply that in this, the Internet's fallow period, anything even remotely buzzworthy is given more of a spotlight than it deserves. Is the Weblog, in other words, a fad that is destined to fade?
* * * * *
But even among those whose Weblogs have gained notoriety, there are some who see this trend as ephemeral. Take Mark Hurst, who created a Weblog, goodexperience.com, in 1999 that he said attracted thousands of readers. Mr. Hurst, the president of Creative Good, a Net consulting firm in New York, eventually stopped posting daily remarks on the Web site and instead simply e-mailed a compendium of comments to a subscriber list that now numbers nearly 50,000 people.

"If you want to communicate with people, e-mail it to them," Mr. Hurst said. "Don't force them to come to your site every day to read what you've written."

[Image: chelseaperetti.blogspot.com]

Andy Pettitte

November 20, 1994

Transactions

pettitteposada.jpgNEW YORK YANKEES -- Designated Xavier Hernandez, pitcher, for assignment. Sent Billy Masse, outfielder, and Jose Musset, pitcher, outright to Columbus of the International League. Purchased the contracts of Andy Croghan, Andy Pettitte and Brien Taylor, pitchers; Jose Posada, catcher; and Ruben Rivera, Matt Luke and Lyle Mouton, outfielders, from Columbus.

Bobblehead Doll

September 29, 1993

Don Imus: It's a Hideous Life, and You Get to Hear All About It
bobblebeheaded.jpgIf he didn't invent shock jockery, he pioneered it, siring WXRK-FM's Howard Stern, among others. "People perceive me as Howard Stern," Mr. Imus, who reportedly earns $2.5 million a year, says off the air, seated in a reclining chair in his cluttered station office. "It's not the case. I'm Howard Stern with a vocabulary. I'm the man he wishes he could be."
* * * * *
Mr. Imus's four interviews with Bill Clinton -- three before the election, one after, and two of them broadcast live on the "Today" show -- vaulted him out of the dirty-deejay hamper. Mr. Imus credits himself with reviving Mr. Clinton's New York primary campaign and thus assuring his election.

"The I-Man is now a fashioner of kings," Mr. McCord says on the air.

"You don't have to suck up to me," Mr. Imus says. "Everyone else does."

"My man Bubba," as Mr. Imus calls him, may keep a Don Imus bobble-head doll on his Oval Office desk (there are snapshots to prove it), but Mr. Imus has not refrained from calling the President "that pantload in the White House," or simply "Fatso."

[Image]

Our Archives

"¢ Volume I: Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, iPod
"¢ Volume II: Hillary Clinton, Starbucks, Donald Trump
"¢ 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
"¢ Volume XIII: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Taxicab, Hippies
"¢ Volume XIV: Digital Watch, Prozac, David Hasselhoff
"¢ Volume XV: George Clooney, Golden Gate Bridge, Toyota Prius
"¢ Volume XVI: Woody Allen, The Titanic, The Beastie Boys
"¢ Volume XVII: New York Edition
"¢ Volume XVIII: Sports Edition
"¢ Volume XIX: TV Edition
"¢ Volume XX: Wrestlemania, Phil Knight, My Two Dads
"¢ November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

T.jpgWant to play along at home? Get complete access to the The New York Times archives by becoming an NYT subscriber.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
entertainment
arrow
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES