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RIP Harry Morgan

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Prolific character actor Harry Morgan has left us after a brief bout with pneumonia. Depending upon your age, you might remember Morgan as Pete Porter, the next-door neighbor on December Bride (a role that he played so well he was given a spin-off series, Pete and Gladys) or as the comic foil to straight-laced Jack Webb on Dragnet. Or perhaps you've only ever seen him in his Emmy Award-winning role as Col. Sherman Potter on M*A*S*H. If that's the case, it would behoove you to consult IMDb and check out Morgan's vast body of work over the years, both in film and on television. In the meantime, here are a few fast, fun facts about the actor born Harry Bratsburg 96 years ago:

Old School

Morgan was born in Detroit but grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, on the western coast of the Mitten. He graduated from Muskegon High School in 1933 and then left the state to attend college in Chicago. He only returned to Muskegon once, in 1978, to film a TV commercial for Lifesavers candy. It was part of a series of ads showing stars returning to their home towns (Suzanne Somers was featured in one) and reminiscing. For whatever reason, Morgan's commercial only aired once, during an episode of Happy Days.

(COOL PERSONAL ANECDOTE: A friend of mine was a senior at Muskegon High in 1978 and was lucky enough to have been chosen to appear briefly with Morgan in the commercial.)

Homey Touches

Harry Morgan was married to actress Eileen Detchon for 45 years, until her death in 1985. That photo that Col. Potter kept on his desk of his wife "Mildred"? It was really a photo of Eileen. Bill Gannon's oft-mentioned wife on Dragnet was named "Eileen." On the wall in Col. Potter's office are many paintings and drawings, one of which is a child's sketch of a horse. The artist of that piece was Jeremy Morgan, Harry's eldest grandchild. And the steed on which Potter trotted off on in the "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" M*A*S*H finale was one of Morgan's own, brought in from the Santa Rosa ranch where he raised quarter horses.

Loosening Up Ol' Stoneface...Almost

Morgan landed the role of Officer Bill Gannon when Jack Webb resurrected Dragnet for yet another run in 1967. Much like Sgt. Friday's previous partner, Frank Smith, Gannon lightened the mood with monologues about his favorite (sometimes stomach-turning) foods and his takes on current fads. Morgan was a natural comic and story-teller, so Webb occasionally let him ad-lib a few lines (previously unheard of on the Dragnet set) and would bounce off of him with a patented Joe Friday stare or gesture. Webb and Morgan got along off the set as well, partially because Webb knew that Morgan didn't "need" this job; if he ever decided he'd had a belly full he could easily quit and find another, better-paying role the same day. Only one time did Webb ever blow up at Morgan on the set; Harry had told a humorous story to the extras around 9AM while waiting for the "Action!" call. At 4:30PM that day, Jack (who also served as director on many episodes, and was used to filming going like clockwork) was particularly cranky because he was having trouble getting a scene "in the can." During a break Harry joked around a bit with some stagehands, whereupon Jack loudly rebuked him: "[Expletive] it, maybe if you'd stop horsing aroud we'd get this!"

Morgan wasn't always simply the lighthearted sidekick; watch Sgt. Friday and Officer Gannon in one of Dragnet's more serious moments and see if many of their points aren't still valid some 40+ years later:

Major Coolness Credits

Not only did Harry Morgan co-star in a movie with the King himself, Elvis Presley, he also appeared twice on The Partridge Family, which meant he shared the stage with '70s heartthrob (*sigh*) David Cassidy. Oh, and also a very young and brassiere-less Farrah Fawcett.

For the love of Annie's argyles, don't be shy – please feel free to post your favorite Harry Morgan memories, be they a Col. Potter quote or a moment from one of his umpteen other screen appearances.

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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]