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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XXII

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In case you missed our first twenty-one volumes or the greatest hits edition, let me explain. Every Monday, we head into the archives of The New York Times to find first mentions worth mentioning. If you have a suggestion for next week, leave us a comment.

HDTV

June 29, 1984

Satellite-to-Home Plan is Abandoned by CBS
HDTV.jpgCBS had hoped the systems would open new markets for specialty programming and for High Definition Television. This new technology, known as HDTV, enables viewers to see extraordinarily high-resolution pictures, even on large screens.
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CBS's plan called for three direct-broadcast channels. The first would transmit CBS network programming in HDTV format, although viewers would need special equipment to receive it in that form. The second would offer additional entertainment and information programming, for both cable systems and home viewers. The third channel would be used for specialized programming or to distribute movies to theaters. All three channels would be capable of broadcasting in stereo.

However, it never became clear how those plans, particularly the HDTV broadcasts, would fit with Comsat's intentions. Mr. Peery suggested that there might have been resistance, by Comsat or others, to the HDTV technology. "We're talking about a year 2000 development, not one for today," he said.

John McCain

July 31, 1967

Start of Tragedy: Pilot Hears a Blast As He Checks Plane
john-mccain.jpg At 10:30am Saturday, Lieut. Comdr. John Sidney McCain 3d climbed aboard his A-4 Skyhawk for a mission over North Vietnam.


"I closed the canopy and started the plane and then went through the normal checks of the gauges and the settings," the 30-year-old Navy pilot recalled today. "Suddenly I felt and heard an explosion. It was either my plane or the one to the right. Flames were everywhere."


In the following moments aboard the aircraft carrier Forrestral, the 150-pound Annapolis graduate climbed out of the cockpit, stepped precariously onto the plane's three-foot-long refueling pipe and then leaped onto the burning flight deck and ran.
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The son and grandson of two noted admirals, Commander McCain has a disarming disregard for formal military speech or style. He is wiry, prematurely gray and does not take himself too seriously.

Keep reading for Dianetics, JFK and American Gladiators.

Dianetics

July 2, 1950

How to Backtrack and Get Ahead
dianetics.jpg On the first page of Dianetics, L. Ron Hubbard states that as a result of the theories presented in this book the "hidden source of all psychosomatic ills and human aberration has been discovered and skills have been developed for their invariable cure." A book which makes such claims needs to be scrutinized carefully.


If dianetics "“ the author's name for his "science of the mind" "“ justifies these claims, it should, of course, be accepted and embraced gratefully as a forward step in a field where new discoveries are of the greatest importance. If the new theory does not justify its claims, careful scrutiny should serve to minimize the harm the theory may do and help us learn from its errors how better to pursue the goals of mental health.

JFK

November 9, 1960

Times Square Fails to Get Election Night Crowds
JFK.gifTimes Square, which teemed with excited citizenry on election nights of the pre-television era, drew little more than the usual weekday crowd last night.


The only spot of excitement was a Kennedy campaign office on the east side of Seventh Avenue, opposite the Times Tower, where several hundred persons jammed the sidewalk and cheered when bulletins showed the Democrats leading.

They hooted as four young men strode by across the street, carrying printed placards reading: "Nixon Wins, JFK Out."

[This was the first time The Times referred to President Kennedy by his initials. For a much earlier John Kennedy mention (1938), see Volume III.]

American Gladiators

January 23, 1991

...And in This Corner, All Kinds of 'Gladiators'
gladiators2.jpgMaybe it's the competition, or the hint of violence, or the skimpy costumes. Or maybe it's just the novelty for television audiences that have seen everything. Whatever the reason, American Gladiators, a syndicated program shown by 156 stations nationwide, is drawing more viewers every week who find something special in its peculiar melding of sporting event and game show.
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To James Shanahan, an assistant professor of communication at Boston University, American Gladiators relies on elements that are common in many television shows, even those in prime time: violence and direct competition between two powerful forces.But Gladiators, he said, is "particularly blatant." People like such shows, he said, because of the uncertain outcome. "It's not like the war," he said, referring to the Persian Gulf. "They know there will be a manageable outcome. It represents a safe way to think about violence." But, he said, "the concern is that people will take a fantasy approach to violence and transfer it to real life."

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
"¢ Volume XXI: Books on Tape, Condoleezza Rice, Tina Fey
"¢ End of 2007: Greatest Hits
"¢ November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

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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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