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The Quick 10: The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

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When I travel, I usually stay at pretty commonplace hotels: Ramadas, Hampton Inns, places like that. I'm not the kind of person who spends much time at the hotel when I'm on vacation, so it doesn't really matter to me how luxurious it is when I'm mostly just there to sleep.

However, I just booked the Hollywood Roosevelt for my trip in May and I'm pretty dang excited about it. It may be considered overrated these days thanks to people like Lindsay Lohan taking up residence there (not currently, thank God), but it's also steeped in history. And it's so deliciously Tower of Terror (I know, I know: Tower of Terror is actually deliciously Hollywood Roosevelt). Anyway, to fuel my fire, I thought I'd share a few Roosevelt Hotel facts with you today.

roosevelt1. The Roosevelt opened its luxurious doors on May 15, 1927 and was financed by an illustrious group including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Louis B. Mayer.
2. The first-ever Academy Awards were held at the Roosevelt in the Blossom Room. Tickets cost $5, about 250 people attended and the whole ceremony lasted about 15 minutes"¦ quite a far cry from today's three-hour affair. Not surprisingly, one of the hosts of the event was Douglas Fairbanks.

3. It's rumored that Errol Flynn drummed up his famous recipe for bootleg gin in a big tub in the hotel's barber shop.

monroe4. Marilyn Monroe lived at the hotel when she was trying to break into the business. How do all of these starving artists afford to stay at a hotel like that for so long?! Anyway, Marilyn posed for her first real magazine shoot (she had some amateur photo shoots when she was still Norma Jeane).
5. If you believe in that sort of thing (I do), there are lots of ghosts lurking about the Roosevelt, and management definitely knows how to keep that buzz alive (even if the perpetrating celebs no longer are). Apparently there's a full-length mirror hanging in the basement that used to belong to Marilyn Monroe, so the Roosevelt has cleverly put a picture of Marilyn on the wall nearby so her face is reflected in the glass. Spooky. Montgomery Clift lived at the Roosevelt while filming From Here to Eternity and must have formed an attachment to the place, because nearly 43 years after his death, you can still spot him there. Or at least hear him. He is said to haunt his old room, 928, and if you stay there you can sometimes catch snippets of him reciting lines to himself and practicing his bugle. I wonder if I can request that room"¦ Other ghosts may include Carmen Miranda and Humphrey Bogart.

hockney6. Pop artist David Hockney is responsible for the underwater mural at the hotel's pool. He painted it in 1989; the pool was then promptly closed by overzealous officials who argued that the squiggles would be confusing to lifeguards. The hotel owners either had friends in high places or the state legislature realized how silly the whole thing was, because they stepped in and allowed guests back in the water.

7. There's a suite on the top floor known as the Gable-Lombard suite; it's where Clark and Carole used to have weekend dalliances while Clark was going through his divorce. It used to cost $1200, but the word is that the owner has taken up residence there and no longer rents it out.

8. David Niven has said that when he was first trying to make it as an actor, one of the desk clerks felt sorry for him and gave him a tiny little room between the elevator and the air conditioning unit and charged him practically nothing. So that explains how one actor could afford the Roosevelt; what about the rest?

9. Movies or T.V. shows with scenes filmed at the Roosevelt include Beverly Hills Cop II, Catch Me If You Can, Curb Your Enthusiasm and I Love Lucy.

strike10. The hotel played a small part in the Disney Studio Strike of 1941. A meeting at the Roosevelt was scheduled for employees to discuss the possibility of unionizing; when Walt heard this he asked them to delay the meeting so he could speak to them first. The group acquiesced and allowed Disney to have his say, but his argument ended up being unconvincing and condescending. Despite warnings that those in attendance would be severely reprimanded or fired, the rally at the Roosevelt went on as planned. It included rousing speeches from the likes of Donald Ogden Stewart and Dorothy Parker, who cleverly said, "Mr. Disney is going to have to decide if he is a man or a mouse!"

Can you tell I've got a bit of wanderlust right now? If you've been to the Roosevelt, share your experiences in the comments and let me know the dos and don'ts. Will I regret my splurge? Or is it totally worth the extra bucks?

Have a good Q10 suggestion for me? Send me a Tweet!

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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