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The First Time News Was Fit to Print: Disneyland, Search Engines & Texlahoma

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Welcome to 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.


May 2, 1954

Land of Fantasia Is Rising on Coast
A cost estimate of $9,000,000 for the building of Disneyland was made today with the announcement that a 160-acre site had been selected for the ambitious amusement center and living museum of Americana conceived by Walt Disney.
* * *
disney-bwDisneyland, which will resemble a giant motion-picture set, is described by Mr. Disney as a "combination of a world's fair, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts and a show place of beauty and magic. Once you walk through its portals you leave today behind and enter a world of yesterday, tomorrow and Fantasy."
* * *
"Disneyland," he added, "will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a sort of courage and inspiration to all the world."

Continue reading for the first mentions of Bobby Bowden, search engines and something called "Texlahoma."


May 26, 1935

Texlahoma Urged as 49th State
Texlahoma, a forty-ninth State in the Union, comprised of counties in Western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, with a combined population exceeding a million, would be created if a proposal being placed before citizens of both States were approved.
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The most curious aspect of the incident, however, arises from the manner in which it is reviving that fallacious notion, always widely held, that under terms of its annexation ninety years ago Texas has peculiar rights to divide itself into new States. This idea arose from a misinterpretation of the clause in the joint resolution of Congress annexing Texas by which the Missouri compromise line was carried to the west boundary of Texas. At that time Texas claimed territory far north, and provision was merely being made that States subsequently carved from Teas should be slave below the compromise line and free above.

Bobby Bowden

January 3, 1970

Carlen Is Hired by Texas Tech; Bowden Replaces Him at West Virginia
Robert C. (Bobby) Bowden moved up to head coach at West Virginia today succeeding Jim Carlen. Bowden, 40 years old, had been the offensive coach for the Mountaineers since February, 1966.
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He started his coaching career at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., where he was assistant football coach and head track coach. He left Samford in 1955 to become head football and baseball coach at South Georgia Junior College.

Search Engine

August 30, 1992

The Executive Computer: A Fast Way to Discover Patterns in Vast Amounts of Data
magnifying-glassIn the financial markets particularly, all the data needed for research are generally publicly available, but few traders have the luxury of enough time to spend researching data, poring over charts and reading reams of analysis. And often they are not willing to commit the time or money needed to have a researcher check out a convoluted hunch -- especially if the hunch requires going back through 70 years of stock market data and economic indicators.

Mr. Li of Duich Investment said he was impressed with how quickly the Market Information Machine (MIM), created by Logical Information Machines Inc. of Austin, Tex., can sift through years of data and display the results as graphs. His system is loaded with about 1,500 megabytes of market data -- about 1.5 billion characters. "It retrieves data almost instantaneously," Mr. Li said. And, of course, "as traders, we really, really like speed," he said.

Duich Investment leases the MIM software, which includes the data base search engine and the historic market data, and runs it on a Unix work station. The software costs the company about $2,500 a month, depending on options.


October 3, 1851

Ohio Politics
The Whig journals in Ohio say that the election which comes off in that State in a few days will be one of the most important in its results ever had in that action...[Those elected] will also have the dividing of the State into Congressional Districts—and past experience justifies the fear that if the Opposition get the power in their hands they will Gerrymander the State unscrupulously for their own benefit.

Here are a few topics covered in previous editions...

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

November 26, 1924

macy-parade.jpgSanta to Lead a Parade: Will Be Accompanied by Toyland Notables
Santa Claus, accompanied by several bands and a circus contingent made up of professionals and employees of R.H. Macy & Co., will parade six miles through the city Thanksgiving morning.
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Santa, with his retinue of clowns, and prominent personages in toyland, such as Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood, Little Miss Muffet and the Three Men in the Tub, then will be escorted to the ground floor [of Macy's], where he will be crowned. Thereupon he will unveil Macy's Christmas spectacle, "Fairyfolk Frolics in Wondertown."

Paternity Leave

September 8, 1968

Paternity Leave Urged
Mother should not be the only one coddled a bit after baby's birth, according to RN, the nurses' magazine, UPI reports. It suggested that the father "merits a two-week paternity leave from his work so he can be with his wife during childbirth and help later with the housework."

George Clooney

July 1, 1990

Popular Films Are Feeding The Series Maw
clooney.jpg This season's spinoffs...are likely to have a certain familiarity about them, especially after the producers and the networks get through tinkering with the movie premises. In ABC's Baby Talk, for example, the father substitute, a cab driver played in the film by John Travolta, becomes a handyman, played by George Clooney. This gives him a reason to hang around the house "“ and pursue a romance "“ with the single mother, played by Kirstie Alley in the movie and Connie Sellecca in the series. Ms. Sellecca's character also gets a time-honored foil, another single mom who lives next door.

Tommy John Surgery

October 29, 1988

tommy-john.jpgSurgery for Tudor
John Tudor, the Los Angeles Dodger left-hander who suffered a torn ligament in his pitching elbow after only one and a third innings in the World Series, underwent reconstructive elbow surgery Thursday. Dr. Frank Jobe, the team physician, said the surgery should enable Tudor to return by the middle of next season.

Tudor underwent "Tommy John surgery," which Jobe developed for the former Dodger and current Yankee pitcher in 1974 in which damaged ligament was replaced with a tendon from his left forearm. Jobe also removed frayed cartilage by arthroscope from Tudor's left shoulder and removed two screws from the 34-year-old's right knee, which was broken 16 months ago when Barry Lyons of the Mets crashed into him in the St. Louis Cardinal dugout while chasing a foul pop.

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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]