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7 Memorable Moments from Oscar Hosts Past and Present

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1. Will Rogers

In 1934, host Will Rogers (left) caused one of the most embarrassing Oscar mix-ups ever when he announced the winner of the Best Director award by saying, "C'mon get it, Frank!" Leaping out of his chair came Frank Capra, nominated for Lady For A Day. Capra was almost to the rostrum when he realized that Rogers had meant a different Frank. As Frank Lloyd won the award for Cavalcade, Capra slunk back to his seat. He later described it as "the longest crawl in history."

2. Bob Hope

In the record-holding 18 times Bob Hope hosted the Oscars, he spouted many quotable one-liners. But his most memorable moment came in 1966, when he was caught off guard by Best Picture presenter Jack Lemmon and Academy President Arthur Freed, who gave Hope an Honorary Award for his unique service to the motion picture industry. A visibly moved Hope was for once without a zinger, saying, "You've caught me with my idiot cards down."

In this summary clip of the 1966 Academy Awards, Hope receives his award at the 1:34 mark.

3. Jerry Lewis

1959 may have marked the only Academy Awards ceremony that ended early. With twenty minutes of air time left to fill, host Jerry Lewis stepped into the breach. "I proceeded to do shtick and bits and talk to the musicians in the pit," said Lewis. One bit was an uncomfortably long audience sing-a-long of "There's No Business Like Show Business." Undaunted, Lewis continued. "I went on until I ran out, then I brought everyone onstage and had a dance contest. I had Clark Gable dancing with Ann Sheridan. I had Cagney dancing with Bogart, and we danced until we went off the air." Lewis never hosted again.

In this interview with the Archive of American Television, Lewis recalls the short awards ceremony.

4. David Niven

In 1974, just as co-host David Niven was introducing the Best Picture presenter, a naked man streaked across the stage behind him. The debonair Niven took it in stride, quipping, "Isn't it fascinating to think that the only laugh that that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings." It brought the house down. (In an official Oscars video on YouTube, stars recall their favorite Oscars moment—the streaker—with a clip of the streaker's interruption and Niven's quip.)

5. Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson brought his wit, charm, and perfect comic pitch to the hosting job five times. In 1979, he had one of the best opening one-liners ever when he scanned the star-studded audience and said, "I see a lot of new faces here, especially on the old faces." In closing the same ceremony, Carson told an ailing, cancer-stricken John Wayne that a "few friends want to say hello," then ushered on a galaxy of presenters and winners to fill the stage as a gesture of love and appreciation for the Duke.

6. Chris Rock

"Welcome to the 77th and last Academy Awards," cracked host Chris Rock as he opened the 2005 ceremony. (Watch the official Oscars video of Rock's opening monologue on YouTube.) Rock's fiery monologue didn't shy from politics, especially in a funny, barbed attack on President George W. Bush's mishandling of the country's economy. Rock said, "Just imagine you worked at The Gap and you're closing out your register and it's 70 trillion dollars short. The average person would get in trouble for something like that, right?" Rock hasn't hosted since.

7. Billy Crystal

Why is everyone excited to have Billy Crystal hosting again this year? Well, he's given us some of the most memorable openings ever to the Oscars. In 1992, he was wheeled on stage as Hannibal Lecter, complete with face mask. Crystal then walked into the audience, right up to Anthony Hopkins, and whispered, "Good evening, I'm having some of the Academy over for dinner. Care to join me?" (Watch the official Oscars video of his performance on YouTube.) And then there's Crystal's recurring "What are the stars thinking?" bit. In 2000, as the camera dwelled on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Crystal said, "I can't believe there's no party at Planet Hollywood... I can't believe there's no Planet Hollywood." Welcome back, Billy!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”