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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XXV

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In case you missed our first twenty-four 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.

'Politics of Fear'

September 29, 1968

LBJ.jpgJohnson Decries Politics of Fear
President Johnson called today for an end to hate and fear as vote-gathering tactics in a plea for unity in this "season of bitter debate."

Without mentioning by name any of the Presidential candidates, Mr. Johnson said, "When feelings are so deep and emotions are so high, it is tempting for some to play upon the fears and uncertainties of their countrymen."

Death of a Salesman

July 17, 1947

death-of-a-salesman.jpgMiller Rejects Hollywood's Bid
Arthur Miller has rejected a Hollywood writing offer and is hard at work on two new dramas, hopping from one to the other because "both seem equally urgent." At the moment the author of the prize-winning All My Sons is devoting himself to one of the scripts, still nameless, that tells a love story of working people in an industrial city. He thinks it may be ready for the coming season.

The other play, which Mr. Miller has left danging "in the middle," does have a working title, The Death of a Salesman, but the playwright is unwilling to commit it to a thumb-nail synopsis for fear that he may be misleading. It would take about ten pages of exposition, he says, to ensure that he isn't misunderstood.
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Mr. Miller resisted the film offer after serious consideration. It involved a one-picture deal, and the product would have been directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Keep reading for Regis Philbin, Valentine's Day and Randy Moss.

Regis Philbin

September 24, 1964

time-for-regis.jpgSuccessor for Steve Allen
Regis Philbin, who has conducted a television variety show at a station in San Diego for the last two years, will be the host of the program replacing The Steve Allen Show. The Westinghouse Broadcasting Company said the new show would be presented in most of the cities where the Allen show is carried. Station WPIX here said it had not decided whether it would schedule the new series.

Valentine's Day

February 14, 1853

St. Valentine; His History and Mystery
cupid.gif It is one of those mysterious historical or antiquarian problems which are doomed never to be solved, as to what the unhappy Saint Valentine had to do with the 14th of February, and all its symbols and paraphernalia of Cupids, hearts and love-letters. We learn of that remote individual that he was a Presbyter of the Church, who stuck to his faith, but gave up his head, having been decapitated by command of the Emperor Claudius. Now whether the loss of the Saint's head was in any way typical of the expenditure of hearts supposed to take place on this festival, or whether in consequence of his execution having occurred on that day people set it aside as sacred to other executions, albeit more amorous than bloody, we must leave for the consideration of the Historical Society. It is a knotty point, capable of any amount of controversy, and properly managed, might, with economy, last the Association a whole season.

It is generally believed that the ceremonies observed on the 14th of February are of Roman origin, but that some jovial Christian liking the fun, ignored its heathen parentage and fathered the customs in some way or other upon poor Saint Valentine.

Randy Moss

August 2, 1995

moss-HS.jpgSchoolboy Star Pleads Guilty
Randy Moss, West Virginia's top high school football player, pleaded guilty yesterday to misdemeanor battery stemming from a racial fight at school, then announced he will play at Florida State.

Moss was sentenced to 30 days in the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston, W.Va., with three to be served beginning last night and the rest within 18 months.
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Moss, 6 feet 5 inches and 200 pounds, led his team to state titles in 1992 and 1993. He also returned kicks, punted, kicked and played defensive back. In addition, he was the state's basketball player of the year the past two seasons and won the state 100- and 200-meter sprint titles as a sophomore in 1993, the only year he competed in track.

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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]