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The First Time News Was Fit To Print: Academy Awards Edition

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Every Monday, we venture into the archives of The New York Times to find the first time the paper of record covered selected topics. This week, our focus is The Oscars. If you have a suggestion for next week, leave us a comment.

Rocky

September 24, 1976

rocky.jpgAt the Movies
Not long ago, United Artists teased the public by placing ads in newspapers for a sneak preview of "a film that will open in December to qualify for the Academy Awards." Moviegoers anticipating a star-studded extravaganza may have been taken aback when the credits flashed on Rocky, a film starring and written by Sylvester Stallone.

Sylvester Stallone himself may be taken aback if he is not proclaimed a star when the film opens, since stardom was his goal when he sat down to write the role of Rocky, an inarticulate, tender-hearted bum of a boxer who dominates virtually every scene of the drama...."It took about three and a half days to write Rocky," said Mr. Stallone, an impressively muscled Italian-American decked out in a vivid shirt, jeans and boots. "I'm astounded by people who take 18 years to write something. That's how long it took that guy to write Madame Bovary. And was that ever on a best-seller list? No. It was a lousy book and it made a lousy movie."

Keep reading for Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and Jon Stewart.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

September 26, 1966

Hepburn and Tracy Will Co-Star Again
guess-who.jpg Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, one of Hollywood's legendary filmmaking teams and close friends in private life, plan to come out of retirement to collaborate on a film with a racial theme.

The picture, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, will be produced and directed by Stanley Kramer for Columbia Pictures, it was disclosed today. Miss Hepburn and Mr. Tracy will play a married couple whose daughter becomes engaged to a Negro, to be played by Sidney Poitier.
* * * * *
Asked why he had been rejecting all the scripts offered him recently, Mr. Tracy replied that they didn't interest him. "This is a picture I want to make," he said.

Steven Spielberg

February 23, 1969

spielberg-s.jpg"Snow White" Sings
Old enough to have fond memories of Disney's Snow White? Well, only the heroine's name will be the same in Universal's feature-length treatment of Donald Barthelme's updated version, a story published in The New Yorker magazine in February, 1967....Producer Dick Berg will be giving the story the youth treatment, having hired a 22-year-old to direct and a 24-year-old to write the script. Director Steven Spielberg, who has never done a feature before, impressed Berg with "Amblin'," a short about hippies. Writer Larry Grusin has heretofore worked in TV. And if they succeed with Snow White, think what they could do with Little Red Riding Hood.

Jon Stewart

November 4, 1988

jon-stewart.jpgWeekender Guide
Also performing are the stand-up comedians Bob Shaw, Ray Romano and Jon Stewart. The cover charge is $10 tonight, $12 tomorrow, and $7 on Sunday, and there is a two-drink minimum. Reservations are suggested.

Martin Scorsese

February 8, 1964

scorsese.jpgGate Film Club Schedules Monday Series of Shorts
The Gate Film Club plans to show a series of short films made in the United States Monday nights at 7, 9 and 11 P.M. at the Gate Theater, Second Avenue and 10th Street. The shorts to be shown are Denis and Terry Sanders's "A Time Out of War," Lewis Teague's "It's About This Carpenter" and Martin Scorcese's [sic] "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?"

Our Archives

"¢ Volume I: Barack Obama, Microsoft, iPod
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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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