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7 Memorable TV Bosses

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Happy National Boss Day! The holiday was first celebrated in 1958 by Patricia Bays Haroski. She felt bad about forgetting her boss’s birthday, so she registered the date as a holiday. (Her boss was also her dad.) Since it’s Saturday and lots of folks won’t be hanging out at the office, we thought we’d round up a few of the most memorable television bosses, and let you guys fill in others we missed.

1. Michael Scott, The Office
“People say that I am the best boss,”  says Michael Scott, the man in charge at Dunder-Mifflin Scranton on the first episode of the American version of The Office. Though the blundering-but-always well-intentioned character played by Steve Carell is based on Ricky Gervais’s character on the original British Office, Michael Scott has become the modern equivalent of a bad boss.

2. Mr. Burns, The Simpsons
Since the very first season of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson has been reporting for duty at Springfield’s nuclear power plant, owned and operated by C. Montgomery Burns, who spends most of his time monitoring his workers via closed-circuit television. Ultimately a cold-hearted, money-hungry man, Mr. Burns is often painted as Springfield’s villan. The character was originally voiced by Christopher Collins, but shortly after Mr. Burns’ first appearance, the role was given to Harry Shearer.

3. DA Jack McCoy, Law and Order

In 2008, Sam Waterson’s character replaced Fred Thompson as the District Attorney after years of serving as the Executive Assistant District Attorney. Though his promotion was primarily on the original Law and Order, his first appearance in the position actually occurred during an episode of Law and Order: SVU.  The next year, when running for re-election, McCoy is often accused of employing extreme legal tactics to bolster his campaign. McCoy is the second-longest tenured character on the show, after Lt. Anita Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson).

4. Lou Grant, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
News producer Lou Grant was played by Ed Asner. Though originally he comes off as a hard-drinking, hard-nosed newsman, Mary Tyler Moore eventually befriends him. Asner’s character was so beloved by audiences, that in 1977, CBS gave him his own spin-off. Unlike the comedic Mary Tyler Moore Show, however, Lou Grant was a drama.

5. Wilhelmina Slater, Ugly Betty
Super diva Wilhelmina Slater is a former supermodel and the one-time editor-in-chief of Mode magazine, the fictional publication on Ugly Betty. During the first two seasons of the show she served as Creative Director of the magazine, after a long tenure as a personal assistant. Her diabolical schemes — which include everything from black mail to having family members committed — were generally aimed toward Daniel Meade, who held the position of editor-in-chief before her.

6. Dr. Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy
Known as “the Nazi,” Dr. Miranda Bailey (played by Chandra Wilson) is in charge of surgical interns at the start of Grey’s Anatomy. Her no-nonsense demeanor scares the interns, but eventually she becomes a trusted mentor.

7. Cosmo G. Spacely, The Jetsons
When George Jetson reported for daily duty at Spacely Space Sprockets, the man in charge was Cosmo G. Spacely, whose big personality often resulted in him firing (and ultimately re-hiring) Jetson. Spacely, who was voiced by Mel Blanc (who did the voices of many other memorable characters, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Woody Woodpecker, and Barney Rubble) much like many of the other bosses on this list, often found a way to become involved in his employees’ lives.

Who was your favorite TV boss? Tell us in the comments.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]