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10 Television Firsts

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Today marks the anniversary of the day Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on national T.V. This may not be a big deal these days, but in 1953, the word "pregnant" wasn't even supposed to be uttered on the airwaves for fear of offending someone. Of course, as the saying goes, there's a first time for everything - and here are 10 of them.

1. First birth. We'll start with Little Ricky's debut, of course.

I Love Lucy was a national phenomenon, so when Lucille Ball became pregnant in real life, it was immediately written into the storyline and achieved the series' highest ratings ever. On January 19, 1953, Little Ricky appeared for the first time on the show - just 12 hours after the real-life Lucy gave birth via Caesarian section to Desi Arnaz, Jr. The episode received higher ratings than Eisenhower's inauguration the next day and Queen Elizabeth II's coronation six months later. Lucy never was referred to as "pregnant," though - merely "expecting."

2. First toilet. Sort of.

Even though networks had decided to allow a television birth more than four years earlier, apparently a toilet on television was just still too risque. In a 1957 episode of Leave it to Beaver, Wally and the Beav ordered an alligator from the back of a comic book. They decided to keep it in the toilet tank because simply keeping it in the bathtub would surely scare the crap out of the next person to hop in the shower, who would then make the kids get rid of it. The problem? The network refused to allow the toilet to be shown on T.V. It was basically impossible to shoot the episode without showing the toilet - it was kind of the whole point of the plot - but eventually a compromise was reached. The toilet tank would be shown, but the bowl would remain a mystery.

3. First gay couple.

You may not remember the show Hot l Baltimore - it's one-season run was hardly memorable. Based on an off-Broadway show by the same name, this Norman Lear production featured the first openly gay couple to appear on the small screen. It also featured a couple of main characters who were prostitutes. These elements, which were quite controversial in the early 70s, also makes the Hot l Baltimore...

4. ...the first program to require a "mature themes" warning at the beginning of the opening credits.

Perhaps the public wasn't ready for such mature themes during primetime, because the show was canceled after just 13 episodes. In case you're curious, that's "Hotel Baltimore" not "Hot Eye Baltimore." The name indicated a neon hotel sign with a burnt-out letter.

5. First married couple to share a bed.

This happened a lot sooner than most of us think - after years of seeing Rob and Laura Petrie retire to their respective single beds at the end of the night during the "˜60s it seems like we didn't actually see a real-life couple hit the hay together until several years later on The Munsters and Bewitched. However, the first couple to share a bed happened nearly 20 years before on the early sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny. In 1947, the married title couple hopped into the same bed in their New York apartment. Why the networks shied away from such normal married behavior for the next 20 years is a mystery to most of us - as far as we know, there was no public outcry against Mary Kay and Johnny for sharing the sheets... especially since the pair were married in real-life.

6. First interracial kiss.

Score one for the Shat - on November 22, 1968, William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols locked lips on Star Trek. Pathetically, some stations in the South refused to air the episode.

7. First uncensored usage of the word "shit."

As far as we know, that occurred on the October 14, 1999 episode of Chicago Hope. Mark Harmon used it when he uttered the classic phrase "Shit happens."

8. First commercial.  

Commercials have been around since nearly the beginning.The first one appeared during a Dodgers and Phillies game on July 1, 1941 - it was a 10-second ad for Bulova watches. The first marketing company to use the brilliant idea of advertising toys on T.V. did so for Mr. Potato head in 1952.

9. First religious service.

Likewise, religion on T.V. is hardly a new invention. The first-ever televised service took place on March 24, 1940, and showed the Protestant Easter Services on NBC in New York. An hour later, the Roman Catholic Easter Services aired on the same network.

10. First abortion.

The first illegal abortion occurred on Another World in 1964, when a character's boyfriend talked her into aborting their baby. The character later killed her boyfriend. One of the most famous instances of abortion discussed on television, however, happened just two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. The controversial topic was approached by Maude in a two-part episode in 1972. When Bea Arthur's title character found herself pregnant at the age of 47, she and her husband decided against keeping the baby. Response was mixed, and many stations ended up dropping the show entirely.

What T.V. firsts do you remember?

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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