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5 Things You Didn't Know About Shirley Temple

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Shirley Temple may be in her 80s now, but for a four-year stretch from 1935 to 1938 she was Hollywood's biggest box-office draw every year. She pulled in a special Academy Award for "her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934" when she was just six years old, and her career really took off after that. Here are five things you might not know about the adorable screen icon.

1. She's Protective of Her Cocktail

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There are few things tastier for a kid than a non-alcoholic cocktail like the Shirley Temple, a refreshing concoction of grenadine and lemon-lime soda garnished with a maraschino cherry.

What does the drink have to do with the child star, though? The Royal Hawaiian Resort in Waikiki, one of Temple's favorite haunts at the height of her fame, claimed to have invented the drink and named it in honor of the hotel's frequent customer during the 1930s. Like most any famous foodstuff, the Royal Hawaiian's claim of creating the drink is debated, though; Hollywood's legendary Brown Derby restaurant maintained that it invented the drink during the same time period.

While the drink's origins are murky, Temple is clearly protective of the drink that bears her name. In 1988 a California company tried to market Shirley T. Sparkling Soda. The former child star took umbrage at what she felt was the misappropriation of her name and told the New York Times, "I will fight it like a tigress. All a celebrity has is their name." The soda maker argued that the name Shirley Temple had become a generic term for the drink, but Temple still took the company to court, the second time she'd had to go through the legal system to squash a soda company's attempts to use her name.

2. She Was Almost Dorothy Gale

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The lead role in The Wizard of Ozpropelled Judy Garland to stardom, but it could have gone to a more established star in Temple. Producer Arthur Freed met with Temple in 1938 to discuss the possibility of having her headline the picture, but since Temple was starting to lose her childish looks, he allegedly said, "First we lose the baby fat." According to a later memoir by Temple, Freed then exposed himself to her. Needless to say, she ended up not taking the part.

3. She Accidentally Inspired a Graham Greene Masterwork

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When Graham Greene was a young writer, he earned a little money by writing film reviews for the British magazine Night and Day. In a 1937 review of Temple's film Wee Willie Winkie Green wrote, "Her admirersmiddle-aged men and clergymenrespond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire." Pretty biting hatchet piece on a nine-year-old.

Temple's representatives immediately went after Greene and the publishers of Night and Day. They sued the writer and publishers for libel; their claim was successful to the tune of $12,000 in damages.

The lawsuit might have had broader literary implications than anyone could have known at the time. Greene left the U.K. to travel in Mexico following the flap, which led some biographers to speculate that he got the heck out of Dodge to avoid being prosecuted and potentially imprisoned for criminal libel. If Greene was indeed fleeing from the law, he made the most of his journey. He turned his experiences in Mexico into the novel most readers consider his masterpiece, The Power and the Glory.

4. Hair Like That Didn't Come Easy

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Temple was undoubtedly a great actor for such a young child, but it didn't hurt that she usually had a head full of perfect curls when she stepped in front of the camera. As you might expect, giving a preteen such a meticulous hairdo was no small task. Before she turned in for bed each night, her mother had to set her hair in 56 carefully planned curls.

Temple reportedly didn't love the hairstyle; she preferred the shorter, tousled locks that her hero Amelia Earhart sported. Temple did, however, understand the value of her trademark look. In 1938 she visited the Roosevelts at their Hyde Park estate. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked the star to go swimming with her, but Temple declined "because of my hair."

5. She Knows a Thing or Two About Diplomacy

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Temple hardly fits the stereotype of the washed-up child star. Although she might not have been a box office draw as an adult, she had quite a bit of staying power as a political appointee. Richard Nixon made Temple the United States Representative to the United Nations, and she later served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana under Gerald Ford. She served in the State Department under Ronald Reagan and also held the post of Ambassador to Czechoslovakia under George H.W. Bush.

Temple's foray into electoral politics didn't go quite so smoothly, though. In 1967 she ran for the House of Representatives as a Republican candidate in California but lost out to longtime Congressman Pete McCloskey by around 19,000 votes. By that point, Temple had shed her cuddly former image; her opponents agreed that she was a "hawk" when it came to the Vietnam War.

A few other choice Temple facts

Lloyd's of London insured her for $25,000 with two stipulations: that she did not take up arms during war or get injured while intoxicated.
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She later said she stopped believing in Santa Claus when she was six. Her mother took her to a department store to meet Kris Kringle, and the store's St. Nick asked for Temple's autograph.
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When she was just six years old she was already earning over $1,000 a week. During her run at the top she raked in over $3 million.
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She appears on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. See if you can find her!

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. If there's someone you'd like to see profiled, leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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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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