Original image

5 Things You Didn't Know About Larry King

Original image

Larry King is one of television news' most immediately recognizable personalities, and it's not just because of his trademark glasses and suspenders. King has interviewed all sorts of subjects, from contentious beauty queens to influential world leaders, and has a unique knack for getting them to open up. Here are five things you might not have known about the man who looks like he might lunge over his desk:

1. A Liquor Wholesaler Made Him a King

Larry King was actually born Larry Zeiger. When he moved from Brooklyn to Miami in 1957 to make his fortune as a media personality, his first boss shot down his last name. Zeiger was "too ethnic," so the aspiring host would need to pick a new name that was more memorable to listeners. According to King's autobiography, his boss looked down at a paper and saw an ad for King's Wholesale Liquors. When the boss said, "King! How about Larry King?" a stalwart media personality was born.

2. He Called Dolphins Games

Before King became a big name on CNN, he spent the better part of two decades working the local media market in Miami. King was something of a jack-of-all-trades at the time, working as a TV talk show moderator, disc jockey, and writing a newspaper column.

One of King's more interesting positions during this stint was serving as an analyst during Miami Dolphins games for WIOD-610 in Miami. King spent parts of the 1969-71 and 1977 seasons in the booth. King stepped back into his old position last weekend when he broadcast the first half of the Dolphins' game against the New England Patriots on WQAM.

Unfortunately for King, he didn't get to call the game when the Dolphins made the Super Bowl following the 1971 season. He lost his analyst job following a December 1971 arrest for grand larceny. King had been unable to pay back money he had borrowed from a business partner, but a judge later dismissed the charges.

3. He Hit JFK

When King was still fairly new to Miami in 1958, he got into a little fender-bender. While that fact is unremarkable, the other motorist in the accident was: up-and-coming politician Senator John F. Kennedy. According to King, Kennedy angrily asked him, "Early Sunday morning, no traffic, not a cloud in the sky, I'm parked — how could you run into me?"

In King's autobiography he wrote about how flummoxed Kennedy was over the accident before showing a more charitable side of the future president. "Eventually he calmed down, and he said he'd forget the whole thing if we just promised to vote for him when he ran for president. We did, and he drove away—though not before saying, "Stay waaay behind me.'"

4. He Doesn't Prepare For Shows

King prides himself on only making minimal preparations for each episode of his show. According to King, this technique helps him learn things about the interview subjects as the viewer learns them, so he doesn't spend time reading authors' books before interviews or brushing up on resumes.

As you might expect, this tactic has led to some pretty comical situations. After a 2007 interview with American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar, King confessed to the audience, "I have no idea who that guy is."

In 1995, King told Entertainment Weekly, "When I was just starting — I swear to God — I asked a Catholic priest if he had any children and how old they were. That's pretty dumb."

Finally, in 2007, Jerry Seinfeld became a bit peeved when King asked if Seinfeld had been canceled:

5. He Locked Lips with Marlon Brando

King had a long, almost surreal interview with Marlon Brando in 1994 that included, among other distractions, Brando forcing King to shake the hand of the actor's mastiff. The interview, which was conducted at Brando's Beverly Hills home, is bizarre on a number of levels, but the most notable part was an agitated Brando kissing King on the mouth. (Fast forward to the 8:30 mark for their smooch, although the whole clip is strangely hypnotic.)

A year later, King told Entertainment Weekly, "He's the only man who has ever kissed me on the lips, including family members. I'm a confirmed heterosexual. And I would have to say that I've been thinking about him ever since." (That "confirmed heterosexual" title is no joke, either; King has been married eight times to seven women.)

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.


Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]