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The Quick 10: 10 Bygone (or rejected) Academy Awards Categories

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The Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks, which means another long awards ceremony to sit through"¦ if you're inclined to sit through those things, I mean (I am). But we really shouldn't complain too much "“ the awards could be much longer if the Academy accepted every category submitted by the public or never got rid of the outdated ones. Adding these 10 into the mix would probably double the length of the telecast!

1. Best Assistant Director. This category had a fairly short run, from 1933-1937. In the first year, there were 18 nominees and seven winners! Can you imagine how long those acceptance speeches would take today? And in the first year, the ADs weren't even nominated for a specific film but for their work in general.

title card2. Best Title Writing. This was given out only once "“ the first year the Awards were held. The title card, in case you're not familiar, are the screens (probably actual cards back in the day) that come up between scenes to tell you things like location "“ that's what Law & Order uses title cards for. In the case of silent films, title cards often held the dialogue. Like the Assistant Director award, this Oscar was given out for the Title Writer's body of work for the year, not a specific film. The three films that earned winner Joseph Farnum the rights to this highly unique Oscar were Fair Co-Ed; Laugh, Clown, Laugh; and Telling the World

3. Best Title Design. This one was rejected when it was nominated in 1999. I have to say, I do appreciate a good title sequence "“ the one that comes to mind is 2007's Sweeney Todd. But I'm not entirely sure that it warrants a whole Oscar category. What do you think?

4. Best Story. If this sounds like today's Best Original Screenplay, that's because it is. "Best Story" was what it was called from the first awards to the '56 awards, and in '57 it was eliminated in favor of the Best Original Screenplay. The latter award was introduced in 1940, so there were about 16 years of overlap before the Academy decided the two were similar enough to be considered the same thing.

juvenile oscar5. The Academy Juvenile Award. These were rather sporadically awarded from 1934 until 1960 "“ only 12 people in the world have ever gotten one, including Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple (of course), Judy Garland and Hayley Mills. The Juvenile Awards were mini versions of the full-sized statuette.

6. Best Casting. This category was rejected in 1999. Should a casting director be honored for picking a great actor for the role? Or is it the actor's job to adapt to adapt to the role?

7. Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production. This was also a one-time-only category for the first Oscars and was separate from the Best Picture Oscar. The only film honored in this category is Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. It was made by F.W. Murnau, who also happened to be a leader of German Expressionism. No wonder the Academy was impressed with its "artistic production." It also landed the Best Cinematography award and netted Janet Gaynor a Best Actress statuette (technically, it was one of three movies Janet Gaynor won for because they were awarding by "best body of work for the year" then).

8. Best Original Musical or Comedy Score. We still have the Best Original Score category, obviously, but for a period in the "˜90s, the category was split into Musical/Comedy Score and Dramatic Score. Apparently by 1999, the Academy decided that a score was a score whether it was upbeat and lighthearted or dark and brooding.

9. Best Stunt Coordination. This category has been rejected twice in recent years "“ first in 1999 and again in 2005. A group of industry workers have been rallying to get this included in the Oscars for the past 20 years, and I think I agree with them. Some of those stunts take real talent, guts and planning to pull off. So far, though, the only time the Academy has ever recognized stuntmen was when an Honorary Award was presented to Yakima Canutt in 1996. Canutt made stunts and action sequences happen for films like Stagecoach, Ivanhoe, Old Yeller, Ben-Hur and Swiss Family Robinson. He was also a stunt double for Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind during the burning of Atlanta.

10. Best Dance Direction. For three years in the "˜30s "“ from '35 through '37 "“ an award was given for the choreographer who designed the best dance sequence. This was back in the heyday of the musical, so it made more sense; you might be a little hard-pressed to find enough films to nominate these days. The most notable winner was probably 1937's Hermes Pan, who was famous for his collaborations with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In fact, the film he won for, A Damsel in Distress, starred Astaire alongside George Burns, Gracie Allen and Joan Fontaine.

Do you think there's a category that deserves to be added to the ceremony? One that should be axed? Let us know in the comments!




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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.