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The First Time News Was Fit To Print, XXVIII

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In case you missed our first twenty-seven volumes or the greatest hits edition, let me explain. Every Monday, we go into the archives of The New York Times to find the first time the paper covered selected topics. If you have a suggestion for next week, leave us a comment.

Mick Jagger

September 6, 1964

Shaggy Englishman Story: British long-hairs are proud of setting a new tonsorial style -- but the barbers are crying
mick-jagger.jpgWe have become a very shaggy lot in England. Male hair, growing at the normal, world-average rate of half an inch a month, is not being brought into contact with scissors, clippers or razor. Foreheads have disappeared beneath hedgelike fringes and can only be glimpsed in a high wind. Ears and collars are similarly buried....Rather unfairly, the blame for all this is being put on the Beatles. (Nowadays, the blame for everything, with the possible exception of the climate, is put on the Beatles.)
* * * * *
Just about every teen-age girl in England wants to touch "“ just touch "“ the hair of a Rolling Stone or a Beatle or a Pretty Thing. It is her life's ambition....The Stones themselves, though, take it all more calmly. Mick Jagger, the lead singer, says: "We just like our hair the way it is. I suppose it gave us our chance. But it doesn't represent anything special to us."

Superdelegates

December 22, 1983

A Not so Mad Race for Delegates on Capitol Hill
mondale.jpg The selection of the first delegates to the 1984 Democratic Presidential convention will take place early next year not in the chill air of Iowa or New Hampshire, as has been the case for many years, but in the temperature-controlled back rooms of Capitol Hill.

Under new rules adopted last year by the Democratic Party, House Democrats will hold a caucus, probably in the first week of February, to choose 164 of their number as delegates to the party's national nominating convention, where there will be a total of 3,933 delegates. The aim is to get more of the party's top elected officials involved in the nominating process.
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The party's only black Presidential candidate, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is expected to include this class of ''superdelegates'' in a challenge to delegate selection rules.

Mr. Jackson, who contends that the rules are racially discriminatory, is expected to argue that setting aside a bloc of delegate slots for elected officials deprives blacks of a chance to compete for these positions. Party officials insist that Mr. Jackson does not have a legitimate issue because the overall delegation to the national convention will reflect the percentage of blacks and other minorities in the party.

Keep reading for HD DVD and Spud Webb.

HD DVD

January 19, 1999

In Race to Develop Blue Lasers, Japanese Star Surges Ahead
hd-dvd.jpgA lone Japanese inventor [Shuji Nakamura] has outrun some of the world's largest and most advanced high-technology corporations in the race to develop a new generation of short-wavelength lasers. The achievement is likely to hasten the introduction of high-definition digital video disks, higher-resolution laser printing and inexpensive and highly efficient light bulbs for use in the home.
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The commercial application of the new lasers is expected to have substantial impact. For example, they will make possible high-definition digital video disks, or HD DVD's, a step beyond the current digital video disks. The new disks will deliver HDTV-quality movies, concerts and stage presentations. In addition, music publishers could publish entire anthologies on a single HD DVD, carrying more than a dozen hours of music on each side.

[The first NYT mention of the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD format war came in late 2003.]

Spud Webb

November 20, 1983

North Carolina St. Tops Houston, 76-64
spud-webb.jpgThe experts had predicted that the result would not be close. Unlike the final of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament last spring, when North Carolina State defeated Houston by 2 points, this game more or less figured to be a showcase for Akeem Olajuwon, Houston's 7-foot center and the basketball fraternity known as Phi Slama Jama.

Well, the experts were right about one thing - the score wasn't close today. But it was North Carolina State that won, 76-64, in the Tipoff Classic game that signals the opening of the college season. And if Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack coach, was pleasantly surprised, then his counterpart Guy Lewis was somewhat embarrassed by his team's performance.
* * * * *
The crowd favorite...was Anthony (Spud) Webb, the 5-foot-6-inch guard who transferred to North Carolina State this year after spending two years at Midland College, a junior college in Texas.

After a slow start, Webb picked up the pace midway in the first half and scored 12 points, including two when he challenged Olajuwon on a drive. This offset the temporary loss of [Lorenzo] Charles, who drew two early fouls and was forced to sit down for seven minutes. The score was tied at 33 at the end of the first half, but Webb and Charles gave North Carolina State the lead at the start of the second. Houston may have acquired the nickname Phi Slama Jama for their exciting running and dunking game, but the Cougars looked to be a step behind during most of today's game.

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
"¢ Volume XXIII: Barbara Bush, Sports Illustrated, The Daily Show
"¢ Volume XXIV: "I Have A Dream" speech, Mitt Romney, Game Boy
"¢ Volume XXV: Randy Moss, Regis Philbin, Valentine's Day
"¢ Volume XXVI: Yoko Ono, Universal Health Care, Tom Coughlin
"¢ Volume XXVII: The U.S. Presidential Candidates
"¢ 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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