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The Flashy Girl From La Florida: The Nanny's Global Success

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In its six seasons on CBS, The Nanny never broke into the Top 10 in ratings, peaking at #16 in season three. And this was before it was nearly canceled after a dismal first season. It was not a critical darling, nor an award-winner, garnering only one Emmy in its entire run: Best Costume Design. Yet despite a modest first-run performance, The Nanny has achieved great success in the years since its cancellation.

The Nanny soared overseas. Dubbed versions were broadcast worldwide with minor tweaks for cultural relevance. And then, Sony Pictures Television began marketing franchise licenses. By licensing The Nanny, foreign producers not only gained access to the story and scripts – they gained the authority to completely remake it.

So what makes the story of a Jewish-American girl with big hair from Flushing who serendipitously ended up as a nanny for a wealthy, British theatrical producer so darn universal? Show creator Fran Drescher chalks it up to the appeal of blue-collar meets blue-blood. The details might not be universal, but class struggle is. Here are some of the more successful adaptations.

Russia: My Fair Nanny

When it premiered in 2004, The Nanny was the first sitcom to ever air on Russian television. It was in such demand the producers ran out of scripts and hired some of the show’s American writers to create more.

Instead of being a Jewish-American woman named Fran from Flushing, “Vika” is a Ukrainian woman who moves from her working class neighborhood of ???????? to be a nanny for Maxim’s swanky Moscow family.

Poland: Niania

The Polish version ran for 134 episodes, boasting millions of viewers. Remaining pretty faithful to the original, Niania named its main characters Frania and Maks. Unlike the original, however, the Jewish heritage of the original character was omitted and Frania’s nationality is never really addressed.
In the opening credits, Frania takes a trolley to uptown Warsaw instead of hailing a cab.

Greece: ? ??????

This version aired on Greek channel Mega TV for two seasons.

In the original version, the wealthy father character was British and quite uptight. In this version Aris appears to be openly lecherous when it comes to the nanny named Mary. Also, the butler has foregone clean-cut suits for a more casual sweater and slacks look.

Argentina: La Niñera

After being kicked to the curb, Florencia Finkel shows up at the door of Juan Manuel Iraola. She hails from provincial neighborhood Lanús, an industrial hub located south of Buenos Aires. Juan lives in the upscale Buenos Aires neighborhood of Barrio Parque. Re-runs are still shown in Venezuela, Puerto Rico and on satellite channels.

La Niñera’s opening credits completely forgo the signature animation and theme song of the original.

Mexico: La Niñera

The Flushing of Mexico City is Roma, a declining neighborhood west of central Mexico City that, unlike Flushing, has become a trendy bohemian enclave in more recent years. As in the original, Francisca Flores is hired by a wealthy theater producer to be a nanny. In this version, Maximiliano Fabregas lives in Polanco, known for its impressive mansions and having the most expensive land prices in Mexico City.

The animation is similar to the original, but this version’s star, Lisset, sings the revamped theme song.

Chile: La Nany

Eliana Tapia Cardenas finds herself ousted from La Florida, a provincial commune in Santiago. She heads for the most prestigious neighborhood in all of Santiago, La Dehesa. There, she is hired by successful publicist/dad Max Valdivieso.

The opening credits use their own unique animation. One notable difference is Max is not dressed in a formal suit, and looks more like a playboy.

Turkey: Dadi

This appears to be the inaugural adaptation. Set in Istanbul, Melek becomes the nanny for Ömer’s children. Instead of big poofy hair, often a joke in the original version, Melek has short, spiky hair.

Here’s part of an episode with English subtitles. Like many of its peer adaptations, the opening credits do not use the animation or theme song.

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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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Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]