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The Quick 10: Happy Birthday, Jack!

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Sure, it's Earth Day. It's Administrative Professionals Day too. But an event that probably isn't pre-printed into your planner (or handwritten, for that matter) is Jack Nicholson's 72nd birthday. Love the guy or hate him, you have to admit that he has led a fascinating life. Here's 10 of the things that make him so interesting.

young jack1. Like something out of a soap opera, Jack grew up thinking his grandma Ethel May was his mom. Maybe that's not so weird, but he was also told that June, his real mom, was his sister. He didn't know any of this until after they were both dead, when an insensitive Time reporter asked how he felt about all of that. The usually unflappable Nicholson was stunned and immediately went home to call family members, who confirmed the story. He still doesn't know for sure who his real father was, although there are some pretty strong candidates. "Only Ethel and June knew and they never told anybody," he said.

2. He had some interesting jobs before he hit it big as an actor, including a go-fer in the MGM animation department and a writer for - get this - the Monkees' Head movie. I don't know about you guys, but I never would have associated Jack Nicholson with the Monkees. Jack actually showed some talent as an animator and was offered a job, but declined it because we wanted to pursue his acting career. I guess that worked out OK for him.

3. The statutory rape charges that have kept Roman Polanski out of the country for more than 30 years? The cause of those charges happened at Jack Nicholson's house. The two of them were and are very good friends.

4. Nicholson bought his swinging bachelor pad on Mulholland Drive more than 30 years ago - it cost him only $80,000. At one time, Warren Beatty and Marlon Brando lived in his neighborhood, which resulted in their section of Mulholland being nicknamed "Bad Boy Drive." Brando lived right next door and used to invite himself in even when Nicholson wasn't home, eating his food and leaving behind his underwear. Seriously.

lakers5. The dude is not a fickle fan. He has held Lakers season tickets since 1970 and has had courtside seats for most of those years. Jack isn't above going on the court to yell at the refs, either, but even if the refs didn't appreciate it, Shaq sure did. His movie contracts even sometimes stipulate that they must work around Lakers home games. And the loyalty isn't confined to the west coast - RottenTomatoes reports that when he was filming The Departed, if someone on set was caught wearing Celtics apparel, he would literally shut down the set until they were removed or a replacement shirt (or hat, or whatever) could be found. That's his son at the game with him in the picture.

6. A notorious womanizer, Jack has had relationships with actress Sandra Knight (the one and only time he got married), Michelle Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas, waitress Rebecca Broussard, Lara Flynn Boyle and Anjelica Huston. That last relationship lasted 17 years and ended when Broussard turned up pregnant. And all of those women make sense, really, but what he really lusts after are apparently women in power. He's mentioned that he has had fantasies about Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosalynn Carter; one of his rumored dalliances was Margaret Trudeau, the widow of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the '08 election... I wouldn't be surprised if she made his fantasy list as well.

7. Jack has turned down (or just didn't get) roles just as prestigious as the ones he has played. Among them: Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Billy Bob Thornton's part in Bad Santa, Peter Dallow in The Bonfire of the Vanities, Ralphie's dad in A Christmas Story, Dick Tracy in the eponymous film, Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Paul Sheldon in Misery, Raymond in Rainman (yeah), Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

8. He has been at every Academy Awards since 1990. He's an active (and very passionate) member of the Academy who was very obviously stunned as he presented the 2005 Best Picture Oscar to the cast and crew of Crash. He had voted for Brokeback Mountain and was sure that it was going to win. Check it out:

9. He has made a lot of money not just for the roles he has taken, but for negotiating smaller salaries in exchange for a percentage of the film's gross. He did this for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 (his first Oscar-winning role) and for Batman in 1989, which reportedly netted him more than $60 million.

10. He has a pretty decent art collection, including a bunch of Picassos. His friends have joked that he lives in a $500,000 house (c'mon... you know it would go for a LOT more than that) with a $100 million art collection.

Do you have a favorite Nicholson flick or character? I think I have to go with the Joker, myself. I mean, I really loved Heath Ledger's Joker as well, but Jack's Joker is just so gleefully wicked, you gotta love it. At least, I do. Share your favorite in the comments!

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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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