Original image

The Oscar Feud That Spans Seven Decades

Original image

Two sisters competed against each other for Best Actress in the 1940s. All these years later, they're still feuding.

You don’t have to be a movie buff to know that Olivia de Havilland played the iconic Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. But unless you’re familiar with the golden age of the silver screen, you might not know that Joan Fontaine, her sister, was a star and Oscar winner in her own right. The sisters were never exactly the best of friends; in a school magazine in which students were invited to “bequeath” things to other students, Olivia wrote, “I bequeath to my sister the ability to win boys’ hearts, which she does not have at present.”

It only got worse when they both started acting and competing for the same roles. It was Fontaine, in fact, who initially went after the Melanie Wilkes role—but she was told she was too chic for the part. “Melanie must be a plain Southern girl,” she was told, and so Fontaine suggested her sister.

In 1942, they were both up for Best Actress Oscars. Joan ended up winning for her role opposite Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. When her name was announced as winner, Joan said, “I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair.” Olivia got her revenge in 1946, when she won the Best Actress Oscar for To Each His Own and shunned her sister’s outstretched hand as she tried to congratulate her on winning the statuette.

They continued to speak—though icily—until 1975, when their mother died. “Olivia sent me a telegram. I was on tour, so it got mailed to me two weeks later at my next stop. She didn’t bother to find out where I could be reached on a telephone.” Olivia claims she did invite Joan to the service, but that Joan said she was too busy to attend. In her memoir, No Bed of Roses (in which she referred to herself in the third person), Joan recalled that "Only after . . . threatening to call the press and give them the whole story was the service postponed and Joan and her daughter Debbie permitted to attend.’’ Whatever actually happened, that was the final straw, and as of a few years ago, they still had not spoken. They’re both still alive—Olivia is 96 and Joan is 95—so there’s hope for them yet.

But it probably won’t be at the Oscars: When they were both invited to the 60th Annual Academy Awards in 1988, someone made the grievous error of putting them in hotel rooms right next to each other. Because of that and a few other flubs, Fontaine declared that she would never attend the Oscars again.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]