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The Quick 10: 10 Facts About MGM Studios

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There's no doubt that MGM has given us some of the greatest and most enduring movies ever made - Mutiny on the Bounty, The Wizard of Oz, The Pride of the Yankees, An American in Paris, Doctor Zhivago, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Poltergeist, Thelma and Louise. Of course, they've given us some real stinkers too: Night of the Lepus (yeah... check that link out), Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Getting Even with Dad among them. It would also appear that they have a third installment of Bill and Ted slated for 2010, which I am simultaneously thrilled and horrified by.

Anyway, the studio that has provided hundreds of memorable movies celebrates an important anniversary this month, so here are a few of the notable things that have happened to them in the last 85 years.

1. The studio was founded by Marcus Loew, a rags-to-riches story if there ever was one. His family was very poor and Marcus ended up working as a child instead of going to school. He saved up some money and bought a penny arcade, then he partnered with Adolph Zukor to buy a nickelodeon. The business expanded into Loew's Theaters, which enabled him to buy three movie studios in the early '20s - Goldwyn Pictures, Metro Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. He combined them all and MGM was born. Zukor, by the way, went on to found Paramount.

louis2. Louis B. Mayer only allowed Loew to buy his company if he could become studio head. Loew agreed, and Mayer turned MGM into the marketing powerhouse that it was in the '30s and '40s. It was really because of his efforts that MGM was known for having "more stars than there are in the heavens." That's old L.B. in the picture to the left with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.
3. Mayer's son-in-law was David O. Selznick. Sound familiar? It should - he was one of the industry's biggest producers, winning two Best Picture Oscars in a row - Gone with the Wind and Rebecca. But his success was not because he was taking handouts from his father-in-law. In fact, Selznick worked for Paramount when he married Mayer's daughter Irene. Their marriage lasted about 18 years, but he had been having affairs for most of that time - including one with one of his leading actresses, Jennifer Jones. She became his second wife the same year that he and Irene divorced.

4. Fox and MGM almost merged once a long time ago. After Marcus Loew died in 1927, William Fox bought out the Loew family's holdings in MGM. Louis B. Mayer was not happy about that, and tried to use political connections to have the motion blocked, saying that it violated antitrust laws. But Fox was in a bad car accident, which held up all of his business deals until he recovered. Sadly, by the time he did, the stock market crash of 1929 had literally wiped out his fortune, making the MGM deal totally moot. Fox tried to bribe the judge during his bankruptcy proceedings in 1936, which landed him in prison for six months. When he was released, he retired from the film industry.

5. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were the heads of the MGM animation department when it closed in 1957. They went on to create their own animation company - maybe you've heard of it. They had a few successful cartoons.

mgm6. MGM's famous "Leo the Lion" logo was a carryout from the Goldwyn Pictures part of the business. Samuel Goldwyn had used the lion logo to honor his alma mater, Columbia University. So far, there have been five lions used - Slats, from 1924-1928; Jackie, from 1928-1956; Tanner, from 1934-1956; Bob AKA Jackie 2, from 1956-1958; and Leo, the current lion, who has been in use since 1957. You can check them all out over at Neatorama - and learn the stories behind other Hollywood studio logos as well.

7. The current MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas originally had a Wizard of Oz theme. Inside were animatronic versions of Dorothy and her friends, along with a yellow brick road that led to an amusement park (see #8 below). The journey included some of the same stuff Dorothy encountered on hers - a haunted forest, an apple orchard and a corn field. You also entered the building through the open mouth of a lion that resembled the studio's logo. The theming was eventually pulled, but you can still see the lion logo represented in the five-ton bronze statue outside and the real lion habitat inside. There are also the Majestic Lion slots, which are tucked back in a remote corner of the casino and are supposedly looser than the rest of the slot machines. I've never had any luck with them, though, and I make it a point to try every time I'm in Vegas. Sucker.

8. Despite being called "Disney-MGM Studios," the theme park in Orlando really had very little to do with MGM. The licensing agreement allowed Disney to use the MGM name and logo and also allowed the MGM content in The Great Movie Ride. That was about it. The two companies had a pretty touchy relationship, with lawsuits flying back and forth from 1988 (and the park didn't even open until 1989) until 1992. MGM was upset that Disney was building a working studio; they said they had only signed on for a studio-themed amusement park. Then when MGM announced plans to build an amusement park in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Disney sued and said that a theme park in a casino would hurt their sterling reputation. Oh, Hollywood. Eventually it was ruled that both companies could just keep on keepin' on with both projects. None of it matters now anyway - Disney changed its name to Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2008 and MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park closed in 2000.

9. The studio's motto is "Ars gratia artis" and can be seen on the film scroll around Leo the Lion's head in the logo. It's Latin for "Art for art's sake."

10. There used to be an MGM record label. It was created in 1946 to distribute the soundtracks from MGM's hit musicals - The Wizard of Oz, Gigi, Annie Get Your Gun and Singin' in the Rain, to name a few. In the '50s it was considered one of the major labels of the time, but by 1972 it ceased to be profitable. MGM Records was sold to PolyGram, which was sold to Seagram in 1999 and is now part of Universal Music Group.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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