CLOSE
Original image

The First Time News Was Fit To Print

Original image

It's time for another edition of The First Time News Was Fit To Print, the semi-regular feature where we travel into the archives of The New York Times and find the first time the paper covered various subjects. If you have a suggestion for a future installment, leave a comment.

Chat Rooms

June 20, 1993

AOL.jpgTomorrow's TV: Will They Sit By The Set, Or Ride A Data Highway?
"It surprised us," said Stephen M. Case, the company's president, "to discover that our subscribers don't look to America Online primarily as a source of information. They see it more as a chance to communicate with other subscribers."


Subscribers can talk directly to one another in "chat rooms" -- subnetworks in which up to two-dozen people can type comments to one another. One recent evening, for instance, a chat-room visitor could watch scrolling down the screen a conversation comparing the weather in Florida and Mississippi, which seemed an opportune time to break in and ask the people in the room why they subscribed to America Online. Answers immediately appeared.

"AOL manages to take a depersonalizing technology and make it personal via chat rooms like this," replied someone going by the screen name of BRUX.

"It's user friendly," FIRECRKR typed. "Any idiot can use AOL, even this one! You don't even have to know how to spll."

Matt Lauer

April 18, 1993

lauer.jpgThe Anchor As Sex Symbol
NBC News seems to be producing a string of on-air heartthrobs. First, there was Arthur Kent. Then Stone Phillips. Now there's Matt Lauer.


Mr. Lauer, the co-host, with Jane Hanson, of WNBC's 6 A.M. newscast, Today in New York, recently substituted for Bryant Gumbel on the Today show for three days.

Does NBC have big plans for him? "I don't think I would call it a tryout," said the anchor, 35, who was born in Manhattan and grew up in Westchester County. "I would call it a great opportunity that was handed to me with no strings attached."

Keep reading for the first mentions of peanut butter, garage door openers, Twitter, Bob Dylan and more.

Twitter

April 22, 2007

From Many Tweets, One Loud Voice On The Internet
twitter-2.jpgTwitter, which was created by a 10-person start-up in San Francisco called Obvious, is a heady mixture of messaging; social networking of the sort associated with Web sites like MySpace; the terse, jittery personal revelations of "microblogging" found on services like Jaiku; and something called "presence," shorthand for the idea that people should enjoy an "always on" virtual omnipresence.

It's easy to satirize Twitter's trendiness, and cranky critics have mocked the banality of most tweets and questioned whether we really need such an assault upon our powers of concentration. But right now, it's one of the fastest-growing phenomena on the Internet.

In March, when Twitter was voted "best of the Web" at South by Southwest, the annual multimedia and music festival in Austin, the service had 100,000 members, according to Biz Stone, an engineer at Obvious. The festival prize prompted, or coincided with, a remarkably rapid adoption of Twitter by the international digerati. Although Obvious has become secretive about how many people use Twitter, Evan Williams, the founder of Obvious, told me that there were three and a half times more tweets in the second week of April than there were before South by Southwest.

[Follow mental_floss on Twitter.]

Garage Door Opener

October 3, 1948

Electric Wiring: Adequate System Needed For Safety And Comfort
An item that is growing in popularity with suburbanites is the automatic garage door opener. Available in several variations, this device makes it possible to open or close the garage door without getting out of the car. In one type a flat plate locked in the driveway contains a treadle switch which raises an overhead garage door when the car wheel passes over the plate. An electric-eye witch operates another type of door opener.

Peanut Butter

December 15, 1902

peanut_butter.jpgIn The Shops
Apple butter has a rival. It is date butter and it is said to be excellent. Peanut butter is well known now, and nut butter, when the nut is not specified, is made of pecan nuts.
* * *
Shelled nuts of all kinds can be found now and at reasonable prices, 40 cents a pound for most of them. Walnuts, pecans, filberts, Brazil nuts, hickory, black walnuts, pistachios, and pignolias can be bought shelled.
* * *
It is an old story that shelled almonds are to be found, and these come salted also. Salted pecans are liked fully as well by some people.

SkyMall

June 9, 1992

United Adds Shopping Service On Most Domestic Flights
United Airlines has added a new feature to its domestic fleet: allowing passengers to order products from 13 companies by telephone. Some items can be delivered as soon as an aircraft lands. The service, called High Street Emporium, could double orders to Phoenix-based Skymall Inc., which supplies the catalogue, within several months, said Jan Redding, marketing director for the privately held company.

Alex Trebek

May 11, 1987

trebek.jpgShop-At-Home Program Fails To Show And Tell
It seemed an irresistible idea: a television show combining the fevered allure of the home-shopping craze with the proven appeal of the traditional talk-show format. If it caught on, the thinking went, it could be the most profitable use of the public airwaves ever contrived.


That was what Lorimar-Telepictures, the giant independent television studio that produces Dallas, Max Headroom and a half-dozen other network shows, had in mind in January when it began ValueTelevision. The one-hour syndicated program, starring Alex Trebek and Meredith MacRae, was sold to 72 stations across the country.

Apparently, shopping is not a spectator sport. ValueTelevision has been a ratings disaster, prompting a drastic format overhaul and a change in hosts and producer.

Huffington Post

April 25, 2005

A Boldface Name Invites Others To Blog With Her
huff.jpgGet ready for the next level in the blogosphere.


Arianna Huffington, the columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, is about to move blogging from the realm of the anonymous individual to the realm of the celebrity collective.


She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls "the most creative minds" in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion.
* * *
While many of the bloggers are on the left of the political spectrum, some conservatives have also signed on, among them Tony Blankley, editorial page editor of The Washington Times, and David Frum, the writer who coined the phrase "axis of evil" when he was a speechwriter for President Bush.

In a solicitation letter to hundreds of people in her eclectic Rolodex, Ms. Huffington said the site "won't be left wing or right wing; indeed, it will punch holes in that very stale way of looking at the world."

From Previous Installments...

Bob Dylan

September 29, 1961

20-Year-Old Singer Is Bright New Face At Gerde's Club

YoungDylan.jpgResembling a cross between a choir boy and a beatnik, Mr. Dylan has a cherubic look and a mop of tousled hair he partly covers with a Huck Finn black corduroy cap. His clothes may need a bit of tailoring, but when he works his guitar, harmonica or piano and composes new songs faster than he can remember them, there is no doubt that he is bursting at the seams with talent.
* * *
But if not for every taste, his music-making has the mark of originality and inspiration, all the more noteworthy for his youth. Mr. Dylan is vague about his antecedents and birthplace, but it matters less where he has been than where he is going, and that would seem to be straight up.

iPhone

December 15, 1997

Cyberspace Cutting Edge Seems Pretty Dull
iPhone-Cidco.jpgIt sure was big, whatever it was. More than 65,000 people last week jammed into the Javits Center to attend Internet World, which has become one of the nation's largest trade shows.


But unlike other huge industry events, most notably Comdex, there was less sense that any particular development was revolutionary than that it was time to pay attention to make the reality of switches and networks live up to the dreamy prognostications of techno-utopians.
* * * * *
Many of the 600 exhibitors focused on hardware, software and services of use to those putting together Web sites. Hot categories included programs to serve as hosts for catalogs and take payments for goods and services on line.

Several specialized hardware devices were introduced. For example, Cidco, a telephone accessory maker introduced the iPhone, a $500 telephone with a black-and-white screen that can be used for surfing the World Wide Web. And Encanto began selling a $1,000 all-inclusive device that small business can use to be host of their own Web sites.

Digital Watch

July 21, 1973

pulsar1.jpgA Watch That Takes the Hard Time Out of Telling Time
Now there's a new toy for the man with a collection of watches. The digital watch, which is operated by a sort of tiny computer, takes all the guess work out of time reading by flashing the hours and minutes in numerals on its face.
* * * * *
Sales are brisk although the Pulsar is not a thing of beauty compared to many good watches. The watch itself is thick, to accommodate its computer and battery, and weighs about four ounces with its metal strap. Until its "command" button is pressed, it shows nothing but a blank, dark-red face and looks like a dead television screen. But that, presumably, is the fun of owning one. Ask the Pulsar wearer what time it is, and without saying a word, he presses the button and you know it's 9:42.

Drudge Report

December 30, 1996

drudge.jpgTake away corporate influence on the Web and what do you have? Original fun.
Corporate sites are usually the polar opposite of the homegrown, wildly original sites that drove the Web's early popularity. In the spirit of remembering whence we came, what follows is a list of decidedly uncorporate Web sites, compiled for your enjoyment andpossibly, inspiration.

The Drudge Report (http://www.lainet.com/drudge/)

A remarkable site that links to virtually every magazine, newspaper or news service on the Web and includes Drudge's own commentary. For its sheer utility, just moved to the top of my bookmark list.

These quirky sites are a minuscule sample of the diversity on the Web today. Turning the Internet into a mass medium is fine, but it is far more thrilling to contemplate what might happen in a world where more people have the means to express their creativity to each other -- without the censors, filters and gatekeepers that the mass media employ.

Yankee Stadium

December 18, 1921

Yankee Stadium to Seat 80,000 Fans
YankeeStadium.jpgThe structure will represent the most recent "“ in fact, the up-to-the-minute "“ discoveries and developments in stadium construction, with drawbacks noted in other stadia eliminated. Particular attention will be given to looking after the convenience of women patrons and making them as comfortable as possible. The tribe of female fans is expected to increase speedily as soon as the new park is thrown open.
* * * * *
All around the outside of "Yankee Stadium," which is to be the official name of the place, an areaway seven feet in width will be left in order to provide for future development of stores and storage places. This is a novel feature in such plants.

Mel Kiper, Jr.

April 6, 1981

The Draftnik Papers
mel-kiper.jpg What do you do if you are an 18-year-old junior college student with little interest in school but a lot in sports? Mel Kiper Jr. of Baltimore solved that problem by dropping out of college and going into the sports business. He began operating a service to provide inside information on college and pro football teams to bettors or anyone who wants to use it. Kiper extracted information from any source he could find, such as newspapers, games on television and contacts around the country. He began getting people to make videotape recordings from television of games in their areas. He then analyzed the games.
* * * * *
Last month he brought out a 96-page magazine-like publication on the draft that reads like a report a pro team might compile. The 1981 Draft Report, for a price of $20, is so detailed that it not only gives names, weights, heights and speeds of the best prospects for the National Football League draft later this month, but also analyzes the needs of each team, projects next year's top prospects and even discusses the attitude problems of some of this season's top prospects.

Of Leonard Mitchell, a 270-pound University of Houston tackle, Kiper brashly writes: "Will need to show more dedication and prove that he wants to excel."

Labrador Retriever

May 3, 1914

Dog As Caddy: Scarcity Of Boys Causes Innovation On English Golf Links
remote.jpg An innovation has lately been made by a player on the Tyneside golf course at Rytown, which is likely to be adopted on other courses, particularly where engaged couples like to indulge in the game without human observers. At Rytown, in order to overcome difficulties created by a scarcity of caddies, the player in question trained his dog, a Labrador retriever, to carry his clubs and hunt for lost balls.
* * * * *
"From every point of view the dog is so much the superior of the boy as a caddy that I expect to see dogs used universally in the future. With a dog as your caddy there is no one to hear you swear and no one to make fun of your play."

[Note: The phrase "Labrador Retrievers" (plural) was used once before, in March of 1914. This was funnier.]

See Also...

Greatest Hits of 2007 (Walkman, Email, Jerry Seinfeld and more)
Greatest Hits of 2008 (Princess Diana, Personal Computer, John McCain and more)
"¢ See all the previous installments of The First Time News Was Fit To Print
"¢ November 3, 2007: Appearance on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

T.jpgWant to play along at home? Get complete access to the New York Times archives by becoming an NYT subscriber.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES