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7 Historic Hollywood Landmarks

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Whether it's Grauman's Chinese Theater or that iconic nine letter sign, Hollywood is rife with historical landmarks. Here are seven that had a small part in making Hollywood the movie capital of the world.

1. Knickerbocker Hotel

Built in 1925, the Knickerbocker is one of the oldest hotels in Hollywood, and has a storied history unlike any other in town. In 1948, D.W. Griffith, a visionary director from the silent era, dropped dead in the hotel lobby. The building was also the location for a rooftop séance on Halloween in 1936, when the widow of Harry Houdini tried to contact her husband. But perhaps the strangest event was Irene Gibbons' suicide. Gibbons was a costume designer at MGM, producing clothing for Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day, among others. On November 15, 1962, a visibly upset Gibbons had confided in Doris Day that she was in love with the actor Gary Cooper, before jumping to her death from a bathroom window. Gibbons had been severely depressed since Cooper's death in 1961 and admitted that he was the only man she had ever loved.

2. The Brown Derby

Brown Derby HollywoodDuring Hollywood's Golden Age the Brown Derby restaurants were the go-to place for celebrities and dealmakers. At one time, there were franchises in Beverly Hills, Los Feliz, and the original location on Wilshire Boulevard. It was the location on 1628 N. Vine Street, however, that had the biggest impact on film history. The walls were lined with hundreds of caricatures of movie stars, many of whom could be seen dining there on any given night. In 1939, Clark Gable took a break from shooting Gone With the Wind to propose to his girlfriend Carole Lombard in one of the booths. The Hollywood Brown Derby is also credited as the birthplace of the Cobb Salad, named after owner Bob Cobb. Although iconic, the Hollywood location closed its doors in 1985 and only a portion of its façade remains today.

3. The Taft Building "“ Hollywood and Vine

taft_buildingIt may have once been popular with prostitutes, but the intersection of Hollywood and Vine is also the home of the Taft Building, a 12-story office building where some of the silent eras biggest stars wrote and conceived their movies. In 1923, A.Z. Taft Jr., a local businessman, built the town's first high-rise to accommodate the booming film industry. All the movers and shakers had offices in the newly constructed Taft Building, including Charlie Chaplin and Will Rogers. Today, the building is mostly occupied by practitioners and small business owners, yet the Taft Building has become part of the burgeoning Hollywood revitalization. A 5-star W Hotel is being constructed around the Taft and is slated for a December 9, 2009 opening.

4. Musso & Frank Grill

M&F '45The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, the Musso & Frank Grill opened for business in 1919 and was a favorite for writers. When William Faulkner wrote for the movies in the late 1930s, he could often be seen drinking at the bar. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler were also regulars. Chandler even makes mention of the restaurant in his 1939 crime novel, The Big Sleep. There's also a famous legend that the silent stars Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino once raced each other on horseback to Musso & Franks, though no one has every verified the story. The corner booth next to the sidewalk is known as the Chaplin booth, because it was Charlie's favorite. These days, you're more likely to see Martin Sheen or Millie Perkins seated in Booth 1, as the restaurant still stands at its original location and is still a celebrity magnet.

5. Hollywood Hotel

Picture 3Constructed in 1902, the historic Hollywood Hotel was the brainchild of H.J. Whitley. Whitley was influential in attracting the infant film industry to the small southern California town, and is thus sometimes called the "Father of Hollywood." Many of the 20's greatest stars made their home in the sprawling 125-room hotel, which held a ballroom dance every Thursday night. The building was razed in 1956 to make room for an office building and shopping center, but in 2001 the famed location became the site of the Kodak Theatre, which has hosted the Oscars every year since. The Hollywood and Highland entertainment center that's built around it features a courtyard that pays homage to D.W. Griffith's 1916 masterpiece Intolerance, which was filmed a few miles east.

6. Charlie Chaplin Studios

Chaplin_Studios_(1922_postcard)By 1917, Charlie Chaplin had enough clout to build his own studio. Charlie Chaplin Studios, located just south of Sunset Boulevard on La Brea Avenue, was a state-of-the-art movie-making facility and included a private residence for Chaplin, complete with a swimming pool, tennis courts and horse stables. Chaplin shot many of his most famous movies at the studio, including his first "talkie", 1940's The Great Dictator, and 1925's The Gold Rush, one of the highest grossing movies of the silent era. By the late 1950s Chaplin had virtually retired from filmmaking and the property went through multiple owners in the years following. Then, in 2000, the studio became the new home of Jim Henson Productions. To honor Chaplin, the front gate was fitted with a color statue of Kermit the Frog dressed as none other than The Little Tramp.

7. Cocoanut Grove

Picture 2For decades, the Cocoanut Grove nightclub inside the world famous Ambassador Hotel played host to some of the biggest names in both entertainment and politics, including Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes and Richard Nixon, who wrote his famous Checkers speech at the hotel in 1952. The Grove, as it was commonly referred to, even played host to the 12th annual Academy Awards, where Gone With the Wind was awarded Best Picture. The hotel was shut down in 1989 and most of it demolished in 2006, but portions of the Cocoanut Grove still remain. There are even plans to incorporate the former nightclub into the auditorium of a new school that will be built on the site.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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