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Yabba-Dabba-Do! Happy 50th Anniversary to the Folks in Bedrock (twitch, twitch)!

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TV's favorite stone-age family first visited our living rooms on September 30, 1960. Originally pitched as The Flagstones, television's first prime-time animated series ran for six seasons and became so popular that companies like Welch's paid big bucks to get their products advertised by Fred, Wilma, Betty, Barney and Pebbles. (Let's face it, 44 years after the series went off the air, kids are still gobbling down Flintstones vitamins daily.) While everyone remembers things like Fred's catchphrase and his foot-propelled car and Wilma's baby mastodon vacuum cleaner, what often gets forgotten is some of the great (well, "catchy" at least) music that the series gave us over the years.

If You Play a Hot Piano, You Get Your Fingers Burned

How many of you still wish couples a "happy anniversary" to the tune of the William Tell Overture? Gioachino Rossini wrote the melody, but it was William Hanna and Joseph Barbera who provided the memorable lyrics. Poor Fred had forgotten his wedding anniversary yet again, and in a bid to buy Wilma a nicer last-minute present than a bouquet of flowers, he decided to purchase a piano. Unfortunately his limited budget meant that he had to buy a genuine Stoneway out of the back of a truck from a guy named 88 Fingers Louie. Fred and Barney were busted while hauling the piano home late at night, but the obliging cops took time out to sing this commemorative ditty.

Long-Haired Weirdoes

The writers spoofed everything from the then-current craze of Beatle-haired pop groups with strange names and gimmicks to the hysteria that occasionally resulted from outrageous promotional campaigns in the episode entitled "The Masquerade Party." Radio ads warning Bedrock of an imminent invasion from the Way-Outs spooked the city into a War of the Worlds-type panic, which led to Fred (in a spaceman costume en route to a party) being arrested. Eventually it was revealed that the Way-Outs were a British pop band, and their catchy theme song was sampled many years later in rap trio J.J. Fad's hit "Way Out."

Your Taste We Will Tickle with a Cold Dill Pickle

Unless there's a Sonic near your home, you may have never experienced having your food brought out to your vehicle by a carhop. But in the 1960s, drive-in restaurants were as common as 1-800-LAWYER commercials. Because of their ubiquity and popularity, Fred and Barney naturally assumed that owning a drive-in meant instant goldmine. Unbeknownst to their wives, they quit their day jobs and bought a restaurant. Their secret didn't stay under wraps for long, however, when two enterprising carhops got a bit too aggressive in their job-seeking campaign:

It's Where the Hipsters Go

"The Twitch" was an obvious reference to Chubby Checker's hit "The Twist," but singer Rock Roll was meant to be a composite of the manufactured pop stars of that era. It was revealed in the episode that his groovy hair and sideburns were fake, and that his dance craze had been invented inadvertently as a result of an allergic reaction to pickled dodo eggs. (By the way, for those under-30 types who've never seen the real thing, that animated TV host is a spoof of Ed Sullivan, whose variety show was the venue for the hot acts of the day.)

Better Buy Some SoftSoap Quick, Before They Call You "Skunk"

Around the same time The Flintstones was originally on the air, another hit show was Sing Along with Mitch, which starred record producer/A&R man Mitch Miller leading a chorale in a community sing. The words would scroll on-screen so viewers could sing along at home. (It didn't take much to entertain us back in the day.) In Bedrock, folks tuned in to Hum Along with Herman to get their karaoke mojo on. When Fred discovered that Barney had a mellifluous singing voice, he quickly formed the Flintstone Canaries and arranged for an audition. Unfortunately, Barney could only carry a tune while in the bathtub, which is why the quartet ended up semi-nude on the program for a commercial spot promoting the sponsor's soap:

Almost a Lawsuit, but Really Just a Strange Coincidence

It's probably far from politically correct, but whenever I hear someone speak with any type of Scandinavian accent my mind automatically recites, "He is Olé, I am Sven." The episode entitled "The Swedish Visitors" featured a pair of foreign musicians who bunked at the Flintstone home for a short time. The episode was inspired by a record called "Wilma" released in Sweden by Owe Thörnqvist. The chorus "jabadabadooo" sounded suspiciously like Fred's favorite exclamation, and then there was that whole "Wilma" angle... Hanna-Barbera contacted Thörnqvist who insisted that jabadabadooo was a traditional Viking cry, and everything else was strictly coincidental. The matter was resolved by having the singer record an English version of his tune for use on the show.

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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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