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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XXIII

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In case you missed our first twenty-two 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.

Barbara (Pierce) Bush

December 12, 1943

Barbara Pierce Engaged to Wed
bush-pierce.jpg Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Pierce have announced the engagement of their daughter, Barbara, to Ensign George Herbert Walker Bush, Naval Air Arm, son of Mr. and Mrs. Prescott S. Bush of Greenwich, Conn.

Miss Pierce was graduated from Ashley Hall, Charleston, S.C., and is a student at Smith College....Her father is executive vice president of the McCall Corporation, magazine publishers.

Ensign Bush, an alumnus of Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., received his wings in June at Corpus Cristi, Tex. His father, a partner in Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., is chairman of the National War Fund drive.

Sports Illustrated

June 12, 1954

sports-illustrated.jpgNameless No Longer
The new weekly magazine of sports to be published by Time, Inc., in August, will be known as Sports Illustrated. The announcement is to be made in the next few days. The title, which replaces Dummy, used on trial runs that have been circulated among advertisers and agencies, was acquired from Stuart Scheftel, magazine publisher, who owned the name.

Read on for The Daily Show, subprime and Geocities.

The Daily Show

August 1, 1996

A Parody of Shows Covering Pop News
kilborn-mulgrew2.jpg A mix of headlines, filmed reports and interviews, The Daily Show is still wildly uneven; occasionally it's very funny and often it sits there like a blob. But its deadpan, silly attitude is a good omen.

What the show most resembles so far is "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live. The host of The Daily Show, Craig Kilborn (formerly of ESPN), spends much of the show sitting at a news desk and offering irreverent versions of the day's stories (mostly predictable jokes about Bob Dole's age and Robert Downey Jr.'s drug busts).
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Mr. Kilborn has the generic, Ken Doll looks of most entertainment-news hosts, with a twist of Dennis Miller sarcasm creeping into his delivery. He is pleasant but could use a more distinct personality.

That could happen. On and off the air, Comedy Central has nervously insisted that the new show will evolve as it goes along. And it will move to 11 P.M. the day after the election, taking over the time slot of Politically Incorrect (which moves to ABC in January). For now, The Daily Show is worth checking out. As Mr. Kilborn says in a promo, ''John Tesh is gone, America. Turn your weary eyes to me.'' As long as he promises not to talk about balance beams and Ukrainian gymnasts, he should get his chance.


March 17, 1996

A Surge in Second Second-Chance Finance
Towtruck1.jpg The dark heart of "sub prime" auto lending is the long diesel tow truck rumbling slowly through a neat development of town houses in the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville on a moonlit night just before midnight.

"There's a Honda. It's gray. That's it," says Matthew, the repo man. He doesn't give his last name. This is a business that doesn't make any friends, after all, and he has a 9-year-old daughter. Indeed just the week before, someone whose car he "pulled" chased him in a friend's vehicle and ran his truck off the road. He's been shot at a few times, but never at close range, he says.


July 22, 1996

Free Maps for Travelers on the Web
geocities.gifFree customized maps are becoming one of the handier features of the World Wide Web. They might soon take the place of that tattered road atlas in the trunk.
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One of the largest presences is Mapquest's. On its Web site, after inserting the point of origin, Buffalo, and the destination, Ithaca, you will find that the distance is 152.8 miles, and that the last stretch is 41.6 miles southeast on state Route 96.Linking to a map of Ithaca, and to various points of interest, the clicker will find that the city has lots of Web sites, including Jim's Ithaca Music Shop, which sells recordings over the Web.
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And Geocities catalogues a big data base with close-up snapshots of neighborhoods that are searchable in several ways, even by E-mail location. A search of, for example, quickly displays a map of the Cornell University campus.

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
"¢ Volume XXII: John McCain, American Gladiators, Dianetics
"¢ November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]