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The Greatest Interviews of All Time: Princess Diana with Martin Bashir

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The Guardian has compiled a list of the greatest interviews of all time, plus some of the more interesting things that happened when the tape was no longer rolling. This week, we're offering a up a few highlights from the series.

The interview took place while Diana was still Her Royal Highness, but just barely: She and Prince Charles separated in 1992 and would divorce in August 1996. The fairy tale marriage that began with a gloriously massive ceremony at Westminster Abbey in July 1981 had by now devolved into bitter acrimony played out in the press -- and the BBC interview, aired in November 1995, was a cornerstone of Diana's offensive tactics.

Martin Bashir, who would later famously interview the Prince of Pop, Michael Jackson, coaxed from Diana a candid description of the suffocation of life as Princess of Wales -- although it didn't seem to take much coaxing. With great wounded Disney eyes, Diana spoke candidly about the difficulties playing the fairy tale, about her battle with postpartum depression and bulimia, and about her struggles with the Royal family and her husband, who had by now admitted that he'd had an affair.

"I desperately wanted it to work, I desperately loved my husband and I wanted to share everything together, and I thought that we were a very good team," she says early in the interview, though later admits to her own affair with her riding instructor.

Diana also reveals that depression, all the while laboring under the "stiff upper lip" and the lack of understanding or help from the Royal family, led to her "injuring" herself on her arms and legs.

BASHIR: What effect did the depression have on your marriage?
DIANA: Well, it gave everybody a wonderful new label "“ Diana's unstable and Diana's mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years.

Diana, whether obliquely or directly, puts much of the blame for her depression and unhappiness on the Royal family: "When no one listens to you, or you feel no one's listening to you, all sorts of things start to happen. For instance you have so much pain inside yourself that you try and hurt yourself on the outside because you want help, but it's the wrong help you're asking for. People see it as crying wolf or attention-seeking, and they think because you're in the media all the time you've got enough attention, inverted commas," she says. "But I was actually crying out because I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales. So yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn't like myself, I was ashamed because I couldn't cope with the pressures."

wedd-cd.jpgAll very juicy stuff. The interview, conducted by Bashir with studied sympathy, was filled with moments like that, of extreme candor and even cleverness. Case in point, describing the effect of her husband's affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles on her, Diana said, "Pretty devastating. Rampant bulimia, if you can have rampant bulimia, and just a feeling of being no good at anything and being useless and hopeless and failed in every direction."


Followed not long after by a well-timed zinger: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."


The interview also fueled her image as the People's Princess: "I felt compelled to perform. Well, when I say perform, I was compelled to go out and do my engagements and not let people down and support them and love them," she says at one point. "And in a way by being out in public they supported me, although they weren't aware just how much healing they were giving me, and it carried me through."

In Diana's eyes, the Royal family saw her as a problem that required shutting up -- restricting her appearances in public, her ability to do the charity work she had made such a large part of her life, even hiding letters and tapping her friends' phones, she said. And through the media, through the damning 1992 book by Andrew Morton about Diana's life with the Royal family, through comments in the press, through this interview with Bashir, she bit back.

And sadly, it's not much of a stretch to say that Diana's courting of the media -- unwilling as it was at the beginning of her life as a Princess -- may have had something to do with her ultimate death on August 31, 1997, after a tragic run-in with paparazzi.

Previously: Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando with Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald meets the New York Post.

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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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May 23, 2017
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