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10 Things You Might Not Know About Peter Sellers

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We all know and love Peter Sellers for his iconic role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. On what would have been Sellers' 90th birthday, here are 10 surprising facts about the actor.

1. HIS FIRST CAREER IN SHOW BUSINESS WAS AS A DRUMMER.

At age 16, Sellers toured the U.K. with several jazz combos. Later, when gigs were harder to find, he branched out, printing up business cards that hinted at his future as a man of a thousand voices. They said: Peter Sellers, Drums and Impressions.

2. HE MADE TWO COMEDY ALBUMS BEFORE HIS FILM BREAKTHROUGH.

Before he made it in the movies, Peter Sellers recorded two solo comedy albums for EMI Parlophone that were produced by George Martin, who would go on to work with The Beatles.

3. HE AND SOPHIA LOREN TEAMED UP FOR AN ALBUM.

In 1960, Sellers recorded an album with Italian actress/sex goddess Sophia Loren, entitled Peter & Sophia. It yielded a novelty hit, “Goodness Gracious Me,” that went to number four on the U.K. pop charts.

4. SELLERS DUBBED BOGIE'S VOICE IN BEAT THE DEVIL.

During the filming of John Huston’s Beat The Devil (1953), lead actor Humphrey Bogart was in a serious car accident and had several teeth knocked out. When he was unable to provide some of his dialogue, Sellers was hired to dub his voice. It remains undetected in the movie to this day.

5. THERE WERE A LOT OF CONNECTIONS TO THE FAB FOUR IN SELLERS' LIFE.

In addition to being good friends with both George Harrison and Ringo Starr, in 1965 Sellers made the pop charts again with a comic version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” recited as if he were Shakespeare’s Richard III. Further, during the making of The Beatles’ White Album, Ringo gave Peter a tape of rough mixes. Auctioned off after Sellers’ death, it became the source of one of the most sought-after Beatles bootlegs ever—usually called “The Peter Sellers Sessions.”

6. SELLERS TALKED TO GOD. AND GOD GAVE HIM SOME BAD ADVICE.

After a long day of grappling with a troublesome scene in one of the Pink Panther movies, Sellers phoned director Blake Edwards in the middle of the night. “I just talked to God!” the actor exclaimed. “And he told me how to do the scene.” The next day, on set, Edwards let Sellers demonstrate the divine intervention, and it was a disaster. Edwards said, “The next time you talk to God, tell him to stay out of show business!”

7. SELLERS HELPED THE PRODUCERS FIND DISTRIBUTION.

When Mel Brooks had difficulty finding a distributor for his first film, Sellers stepped in. He urged top producers to watch the movie, and took out full page ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “This is one of the greatest comedies that’s been made recently.” His championing of The Producers gave it the industry buzz that turned it into a hit. Ironically, the year before, Brooks had pitched Sellers on playing a lead role, but Sellers was supposedly too busy at the time shopping at Bloomingdale’s to really listen.

8. SELLERS WAS SUPERSTITIOUS ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS, ESPECIALLY COLORS.

Green gave Sellers “strange vibrations” and disturbed him. He never wore it, and refused to act with anyone wearing green. Purple was even worse. During the making of After The Fox, director Vittorio De Sica flew into a rage one day when a script girl showed up in a purple outfit. “It’s the color of death!” De Sica told Sellers, and Sellers was haunted by this for the rest of his life.

In later years, Sellers' aversion to purple produced such volcanic tantrums that publicists would scour his proposed hotel rooms in search of the color, and if they found it, change the room.

9. HE BASED CHANCE THE GARDENER ON STAN LAUREL.

For his Oscar-nominated role as Chance The Gardener in Being There, Sellers based the tone and cadence of the character’s speaking voice on one of his comic idols: Stan Laurel.

10. HE HAD 15 HEART ATTACKS.

In 1980, Peter Sellers died from a massive heart attack. But it wasn’t his first—it was his fifteenth. He’d had one in 1977. And in 1964, during the filming of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid, Sellers suffered a series of 13 heart attacks over a period of a few days. At one point he was pronounced dead for a minute and a half.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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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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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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