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The Quick 10: Happy Anniversary, Simpsons!

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If Sitcom Time progressed like real time, Bart Simpson would be 30 today. On December 17, 1989, the Simpson family debuted their own show "“ a Christmas Special called "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" - to rave reviews. Prior to that, they had just appeared as small skits on The Tracey Ullman Show. To celebrate their longevity, here are a few tidbits about everyone's favorite animated dysfunctional family.

babysitter1. Although "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was the first episode ever aired, it was actually the eighth episode produced. The debut kept getting pushed back, and by the time it was finally ready, it was December 17th (obviously) and it made sense to go with the holiday-themed episode as opposed to the actual first episode. The first episode produced was actually "Some Enchanted Evening," where the Simpson kids encounter the Babysitter Bandit.

2. Until The Simpsons surpassed them in 1997, The Flintstones was the longest-running prime time animated show. Fred and Barney had a pretty good run of six seasons.

3. The show has been renewed through 2011, which means it will break Gunsmoke's record for the longest-running prime time show in history, animated or not, with its 21st season next year.

4. Matt Groening says Comic Book Guy is based on himself. He thinks it's the way other people see him. Comic Book Guy has a name, by the way "“ it's Jeff Albertson.

crazy cat lady5. Other characters whose names you may not know: the Crazy Cat Lady is Eleanor Abernathy, Bumblebee Man's name is probably Pedro (that's what his bowling shirt says, anyway), Jimbo is actually Corky James, Otto is Otto Mann, and "Squeaky-Voiced Teen" is Jeremy.

6. Because Matt Groening grew up in Portland, Oregon, a lot of the names found in the show were inspired by places and streets in Portland. For instance, Lovejoy, Terwilliger and Flanders are streets in Portland.

7. Homer's famous "D'oh!" was inspired by Laurel and Hardy. The made-up word appeared in The New Oxford Dictionary of English in 1998, with the definition, "used to comment on an action perceived as foolish or stupid." It finally made the big guy, The Oxford English Dictionary, in 2001. That definition is a little more detailed:

Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also (usu. mildly derogatory): implying that another person has said or done something foolish (cf. DUH int.).

8. In one episode, Homer created a gossip website that spilled the beans about everyone in town. You can actually go to that website "“ check out

9. The characters have four fingers, with one exception: God. Anytime God is portrayed on The Simpsons, he has all five fingers. One episode ("Homer the Heretic") does depict him with four, but this is widely thought to have been an accident.

10. I've always been a fan of the clever names and titles on the show. Here are some of them:

  • BloodBath and Beyond, a gun shop.
  • Karmaceuticals, new age store.
  • Repo Depot, a repossession business.
  • It Blows, an air conditioner store.
  • Valley of the Dolls, a toy store.
  • Saks Fifth Grade, a girls' clothing store.
  • The Family Jewels, a jewelry store.
  • Maybe not surprisingly, I appreciate clever store names in real life too.

    What's your favorite Simpsons moment from the last 20 years? Or is it impossible to choose?

    Finishing up your Christmas shopping this weekend?

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    Need gift ideas? Here are the top 10 items readers have picked up this holiday season.

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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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    Opening Ceremony
    These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
    May 19, 2017
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    Opening Ceremony

    Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

    Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


    Opening Ceremony

    To this:


    Opening Ceremony

    The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

    [h/t Mashable]