CLOSE
Original image

The Last Days of Lucille Ball

Original image

The date was March 29, 1989. The most famous comedienne in the history of show business was about to make her final TV appearance.

The great Lucille Ball was appearing at the annual Academy Awards ceremony, along with the world's most popular comedian, Bob Hope (an old friend of Lucille Ball). Hope had talked Lucy into making the joint appearance after many phone calls and much begging. Finally, Lucy had conceded, but she hated the very idea of it.


Lucy hated putting on the wig she had chosen to wear. "She complained the netting gave her 'a goddamn headache.'"

Photo of Lucy by Alan Light on Flickr

"Goddamn Hope," Lucy complained, "No one cares what the hell he looks like, but everybody cares what I look like--God, I'm so tired of myself."

Lucy did her final TV appearance with Hope, which went smoothly enough, and then she had to go back to "real life."

Her Sunken Spirits

Lucy had been a bit down. She had never completely recovered from the death of her former husband, Desi Arnaz, her co-star on the legendary I Love Lucy. Her most intimate friends saw the obvious about Lucy's love for Desi; although she was in a comfortable marriage to Gary Morton, she had always carried a torch for Desi. (Desi always sent Lucy flowers on her birthday and their anniversary, and the two kept in close touch by phone throughout the years.)

Additionally, the dismal failure of her recent TV series, Life with Lucy, weighed heavily on her mind.

Lucy occupied her days watching TV, playing Scrabble and Backgammon, and having the occasional drinks of bourbon ("slushies," as she called them).

One Last Caper

Interestingly, Lucy had one last "caper" in her life.

One night in April of 1989, there was a loud party going on next door. Lucy and her friend, Lee Tannen, found some milk crates in an alley. They used the milk crates to prop themselves up and, like two children, spied on the goings-on at the party. The two stood like two little kids, "peeping through the trellis and palm fronds." According to Tannen, he felt like Ethel Mertz in an I Love Lucy episode, standing there spying with Lucy.

"Lucy was fascinated by the goings-on, commenting on everything, and eyeing everybody who, ironically, would have given their eye teeth to meet the crazy redhead on the other side of the wall."

Heart Surgery

A few days later, on April 17, 1989, Lucy started experiencing shooting pains in her chest. Her husband called her doctor and tried to talk Lucy into going to the hospital. Lucy refused to go until Gary called Lucy's daughter, who finally convinced her, but Lucy only agreed to go if she could get nicely dressed and put on her make-up. Upon arriving, Lucy was given 7 hours of open-heart surgery at the hospital. Her operation was a success and, after a few days, she returned home.

But sadly, after Lucy arrived home she was told she couldn't live in her own bedroom; she would have to live in the guest room downstairs. Since Lucy's house had no elevators, the doctors wanted to make sure Lucy did not do any stair climbing. This apparently broke Lucy's heart. She did not want to live in a makeshift bedroom and she did not want to be treated like an invalid.

The next morning, Lucy's surgically repaired aorta ruptured again, and she went into full cardiac arrest. She was rushed back to the hospital, but this time the doctors couldn't save her.

The great "Lucy" had passed away.

"She really disintegrated so quickly," said Tannen. "Her tombstone should have read 'From Desi's death on Dec. 2, 1986, to her own death on April 26, 1989' because that was the life of her death. On her death certificate it says 'ruptured aorta,' but I believe Lucy died because she didn't want to live anymore."

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES