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Facts of Interest! Things You Didn’t Know About Futurama Characters

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The people who occupy the strange world of Matt Groening’s Futurama seem like something that could only be created by a twisted merge between the worlds of “Metropolis,” “Eraserhead” and the upper west side of Manhattan. And despite their two-dimensional existence, they actually have very deep personalities, histories and roots that can rival other sitcom characters who are actually full flesh and blood. Just imagine being able to peel them away and uncover their deepest and most awe-inspiring secrets — especially Leela. Dear, sweet, beautiful, shapely, lonely Leela.

Phillip J. Fry

The delivery boy serves as the show’s 20th-century hero to the 30th-century’s cultural complications and technological imperfection. He also serves a personal tribute to some of the actors and creators involved with the show.


For instance, Matt Groening bestowed his main character with the name Phillip in honor of the late Phil Hartman, who had a long history with The Simpsons as Troy McClure and other characters. He was going to join up with Groening again for Futurama, but Hartman was killed by his wife before the show started.


The middle initial “J” stands as Groening’s personal tribute to animator and Rocky and Bullwinkle creator Jay Ward and Bullwinkle, who also shares the same middle initial. Fry isn’t the first of Groening’s characters whose middle name got an injection of vitamin “J.” Other characters include Abraham J. Simpson, Hubert J. Farnsworth, Bartholomew J. Simpson and (of course) Homer J. Simpson.

Turanga Leela

There has actually been a friendly debate brewing over the origins of this plucky, one-eyed alien babe’s name. Pop culture and most Wiki-related sites suggest that Groening and his Futurama cronies got the name from the British series Doctor Who, in which the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, is accompanied by a plucky brunette babe named Leela.


Her name actually comes from the most famous symphony by French composer Olivier Messiaen called “Turangalila,” according to an LA Weekly profile on Groening from 1999. The title is derived from two Sanskrit words: “turanga,” meaning “time,” and “lila,” meaning “play.” The artist described his piece as an expression of joy that is “superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned.” Throw in “busty” and “one-eyed” and you’ve got my favorite purple haired cyclops.

Bender Bending Rodriguez

TV’s greatest foul mouthed, chain-smoking, beer-swilling robot since Rosie from The Jetsons gets his first name from John Bender, the hard-edged, angry teen played by Judd Nelson in John Hughes’ classic coming of age film The Breakfast Club.


John DiMaggio, the long-time voice of the iconic robot character, describes the character’s voice as an audible mesh between Slim Pickens, “every drunk at the end of the bar in the Northeast” and a voice that a college buddy would do called “Charlie the sausage lover.” DiMaggio originally auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth using what we now know as Bender’s voice. Someone on the show suggested he audition for Bender in his professor voice and he scored the role, according to a DVD commentary from the first season. And speaking of the good doctor…

Futurama
The Voices of Futurama – John DiMaggio on Bender
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Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth

The scientist, inventor and distant nephew of the elder Fry (Wikipedia claims he is Fry’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great nephew) gets his name from real life inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, the man responsible for bringing the world the great invention of the first all-electric television and, by default, Futurama.


The role went to famed voice actor Billy West, who also voices Fry, Dr. Zoidberg and Earth President Richard M. Nixon. West and DiMaggio would often kill time between recording takes by playing a round of “Dueling Farnsworths,” according to the show’s DVD commentary.

Dr. John A. Zoidberg

Producer and co-creator David X. Cohen came up with the name for the perpetually poor crustacean physician from his childhood. Like most children of the 80s, Cohen spent his days dumping quarters into arcade game cabinets. He was inspired to create his own game on an Apple II computer called Zoid, a game he submitted to the Broderbund software company that created the popular line of Carmen Sandiego history and geography games. The company not only rejected the program, but they also misspelled Cohen’s name in the rejection letter.


Zoidberg’s voice, provided by West, is actually a combination of two impressions from West’s impressive voice arsenal: the reticent tone of character actor Lou Jacobi and the “marble mouth” of actor, singer and “Toastmaster General” George Jessel.

Futurama
The Voices of Futurama – Billy West on Dr. Zoidberg
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Zapp Brannigan

The bumbling and booming spaceship captain and military leader was supposed to be voiced by the late Phil Hartman. The character was created for him and modeled after his unmistakable, striking voice, but after Hartman was murdered, the role was given to West.


West based the voiced on the booming sounds of old-time radio DJs from his days in the AM and FM recording booths, a topic that West said he and Hartman often discussed before his untimely passing. The show’s creators and writers cleverly describe Brannigan’s personality as “if William Shatner ran the Enterprise, not James T. Kirk.”

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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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