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9 Facts About the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever

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Holiday spirit hitting bottom? Can’t feel warmth in the cockles of your heart? (You should get that checked; I lost an uncle to poor cockle health.) Nonetheless, if you’re just not feeling the festive cheer, do what I do and get merry with a bare-footed, one man anti-terrorist unit in the greatest Christmas movie ever made: Die Hard.

1. Die Hard started out as the sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger '80s action staple Commando. Goes a long way to validate the opinion that all action movies are the same.

2. How perfect is Bruce Willis as John McClane? Not very, if you asked the producers at the time. Other actors considered before Willis include Arnold Schwarzenegger (in the Commando sequel version), Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, and Richard Gere.

3. Want to take a picture of Nakatomi Tower while you’re in LA? Good luck. The Fox Tower, which played Nakatomi in Die Hard, became such a popular tourist attraction taking photos of the building is now prohibited.

4. Look closely when you watch the movie and you will see Bruce Willis’ feet are occasionally unnaturally large. During the “running barefoot on broken glass” scene, Willis wears barefoot shaped rubber shoes that make him look like a Hobbit.

5. Despite Sgt. Al’s affinity for Twinkies, actor Reginald VelJohnson despises them. After the success of Die Hard, people constantly teased the actor for his character’s obsession with the yellow tube cakes.

6. Deputy Chief Robinson says that John McClane "could be a f------ bartender for all we know," which actually was a true statement. Before becoming a successful actor, Willis worked as a bartender. If you happen to meet him, ask him to make you a Screwdriver. I’m sure he’ll appreciate that.

7. While no fan would argue the original Die Hard isn’t the best movie in the series, Bruce Willis would. Willis’ favorite of the four Die Hard movies is Live Free or Die Hard, which is just excruciating sacrilege as Live Free is the only non-R rated film in the bunch and therefore doesn’t (technically) include the line, “Yippee Kay-yay, Motherf-,” which to many means Live Free isn’t “technically” a Die Hard movie. Why don’t you make John McClane a vegan while you’re at it?

8. Speaking of "Yippee-ki-yay, mother-----!," it doesn’t have the same bite in other languages. In Urdu the line comes out "mother, here eat this." Sounds more like John McClane offering the bad guy home baked cookies rather than bullets, though I don’t doubt his ability to kill someone with a Snickerdoodle.

9. Speaking of languages, the phrase “Die Hard” didn’t exactly translate in other countries, so like with most films, it was retiled. In Spain it’s "The Glass Jungle.” The Hungarian title is "Give your life expensive," the title of the sequel is "Your life is more expensive," and the third part is "The life is always expensive.” The best, however, comes from Poland where the title translates to, “He Dies Slowly” which sounds more like a lengthy drama about a man bleeding to death from a paper cut.


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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]