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R.I.P. Bea Arthur

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mental_floss mourns the loss of Beatrice Arthur, who died of cancer Saturday at the age of 86 (and joins cast mate Estelle Getty in that big Shady Pines in the sky). Arthur's complete biography will certainly be the subject of many news posts in the next few days, so we don't really need to tell you that she was born Bernice Frankel. Or that, even though she'd been starring on Broadway for many years, she didn't receive mainstream recognition until she landed the role of outspoken Maude at the age of 50. We'll leave those details to the Other Guys and pay our own respects to Bea in terms of her most enduring role, that of Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls.

Thank You for Being a Friend

Brandon Tartikoff got the idea for The Golden Girls while visiting his elderly aunt. His aunt's neighbor was also her best friend, and he was amused at how they remained pals even though they constantly bickered with one another. When casting the show, Lee Grant was first offered the role of Dorothy, but she refused to play a woman old enough to have grandchildren. Oddly enough, the original production notes describing Dorothy Zbornak listed her as "a Bea Arthur type." Producers didn't think she'd be interested, however, and it took some time before they got the bright idea to offer her the part.

The Golden Girls was notorious for its subtle sexual references and double-entendres. Viewers always knew what Dorothy was referring to whenever she uttered her trademark "Whoa!"

Shady Pines

Poor Dorothy. Among the Girls, she was voted Least Likely to Attract a Man. And that included her mother, 80-something Sophia Petrillo, in the mix. It's a tribute to Bea Arthur's talent as an actress that she could run the gamut from "60-plus woman giggling like a love-struck ingénue" to "stern but concerned roommate" to "outraged by the insinuation but will ultimately play along as a faux lesbian on a local TV show" all within one scene. And of course, as always, when Dorothy feels cornered by her mother, she unleashes her ultimate weapon: The Home.

It's Me, Stan.

Very picky Golden Girls viewers might note that Dorothy and Stan endured a "shotgun wedding" once recent high school graduate Dorothy discovered that she was with child. From the beginning of the series, Dorothy often mentioned having been married to Stan for 38 years before they divorced. Yet whenever the couple's children, Kate and Michael, appeared on the show, neither looked to be even 30. How did the writing staff explain this discrepancy? According to more than one show runner, the writers never thought the show would live on in syndication, and didn't feel that viewers would keep tabs on such "minor" details.

"Not Now, Ma!"

Dorothy's intelligence and keen intellect took center stage in the final scene of "The Case of the Libertine Belle," an episode centered around a murder mystery weekend.

Speaking of Dorothy's smarts, who could forget her hilarious Jeopardy! audition? That's a favorite of the mental_floss staff, natch.

What are your favorite Dorothy moments? What about her best conversational come-backs? As a tribute to Bea, please post your favorite Golden Girls moments so that the rest of us can nod in recognition and chuckle along. Thanks!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]