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11 Things You Should Know About Rocky & Bullwinkle

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Fifty years ago this week, the world was introduced to Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. An animated television series called Rocky and His Friends debuted on ABC at 5:30 pm on November 19, 1959. In 1961, the show moved to NBC, where it was renamed The Bullwinkle Show and ran until 1964. IGN calls The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show—the collective name for the two series—the 11th best animated series ever, but in my mind it's second only to The Simpsons (the first 8 seasons anyway).  To celebrate the moose and squirrel's half-century of existence, here are 11  things you should know about the show and characters.

1. The show was created by producer Jay Ward and cartoonist Alex Anderson, who had worked together on the Crusader Rabbit series. Their initial vision was a show called The Frostbite Falls Revue about a group of animals running a TV station, but the project never got beyond the proposal stage. The next attempt at a new series began with the pilot Rocky the Flying Squirrel. General Mills came on as a sponsor and Rocky and His Friends was born.

2. Instead of hiring animators when production of Rocky and His Friends got rolling, Ward convinced some friends at Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, an advertising agency that had General Mills as a client, to buy the Mexican animation studio Gamma Productions so he could outsource the animation. The plan saved money and the Mexican studio churned work out quickly, but quality was an issue. In early episodes of the show, it's not uncommon to see characters' facial hair, costumes and skin tone change color.

3. Bullwinkle is named after Jay Ward's friend Clarence Bullwinkel, a Berkeley landlord and owner of an Oakland Chevrolet dealership.

4. The name of the time machine featured in "Peabody's Improbable History" is sometimes incorrectly written out as the "Way Back Machine," but the correct name is the WABAC machine, a play on early computers like UNIVAC,

5. Rocky and Bullwinkle live in the town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. The population of Frostbite Falls is variously given as 23, 48, 29, 31.5 and 4001 over the course of the series.

6. Bullwinkle is originally from the state is Moosylvania, a small island in the Lake of the Woods, and is actually its governor. The ownership of the state is the subject of dispute between the United States and Canada, with each country claiming it belongs to the other. As a publicity stunt, Ward and Bill Scott, the show's head writer and voice of Bullwinkle, bought a small island on a Minnesota lake, named it Moosylvania and started a national tour and petition drive to campaign for Moosylvania's statehood. After visiting 50 cities and collecting signatures, they went to Washington to present President Kennedy with their petition. At the White House gate they declared, "We're here to see President Kennedy. We want statehood for Moosylvania." They were escorted from the property at gunpoint and didn't learn until days later that they had shown up during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. On the show, Rocky and Bullwinkle had much better luck getting their petition delivered.

bullwinkle7. Rocky and Bullwinkle share the middle initial "J," but their middle names are never revealed. Matt Groening gave the three male members of the Simpson family "“- Bartholomew J., Homer J. and Abraham J. "“- the same initial as a tribute to Rocky and Bullwinkle.


8. There's really no difference between Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show. When the show moved to NBC in 1961, the network simply wanted it retitled and the new series continued where Rocky and His Friends, left off. Many of the syndicated packages, as well as the official DVD release, contained cartoons from both original network series.


9. The features of Fearless Leader, the dictator of Pottsylvania (who was known to carry the entire Pottsylvanian treasury on his person at all times), were inspired by World War II anti-Nazi propaganda posters.

10. Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov—whose surname is a play on 16th-century Russian Tsar Boris Godunov—was revealed in an advertisement as an active member of Local 12 of the Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union.

11. Aside from their gift for puns, Rocky and Bullwinkle each had talents that served them well in their adventures. Rocky, a flying squirrel, could glide, hover and carry objects through the air. He honed these skills at the Cedar Yorpantz Flying School. Bullwinkle possessed superhuman strength, referred to as his "mighty moose muscle," and the ability to remember every single thing he ever ate.

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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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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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