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YouTube / Joel Sanderson

Submitted for Your Approval: Rod Serling

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YouTube / Joel Sanderson

In 1970, Professor James Gunn of the University of Kansas interviewed a variety of science fiction writers for his "Science Fiction in Literature" series. Among the interviewees was Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, winner of many Emmys, and inveterate chain-smoker. But the Gunn/Serling interview was not released until recently, due to licensing issues with his TV clips. Joel Sanderson posted the video on YouTube, writing:

This footage from an unreleased film in that series featuring an interview with Rod Serling, which wasn't finished due to problems with obtaining rights to show footage from Serling's work in television. This reconstruction is based on the original workprint footage that was saved on two separate analog sources since the audio track was separate. Re-syncing the footage was a long involved process as the audio track didn't match the film and there was substantial sync drift. While not perfect, there's a lot of interesting information on writing for television in the dialogue with Serling as well as a prophetic statement about his health at the beginning.

If you enjoy science fiction, or writing, or the state of television writing in 1970, this is a goldmine. Note that Serling died just five years later. Sit back and enjoy.

Part 1

"We could never begin to do 2001. Kubrick would put us out of business in three days of shooting. So we're sort of the poor relation of science fiction in the mass media, and you'll note that most of the science fiction that is tackled on television is 'bedroom' and 'living room' science fiction -- small scale."

Part 2

At the start, the film magazine has tailed out, but audio is still present. Sample quote: "Star Trek, I thought, was a very inconsistent show, which at times sparkled with true ingenuity and pure science fiction approaches, and other times was more carnival-like, and very much more the creature of television than the creature of a legitimate literary form."

The Mike Wallace Interview

If that's not enough Serling for you, check out this Mike Wallace interview from way back in 1959. I'm pretty sure Wallace mistakenly addresses Serling as "Ron" at the start.

"Writing for Television" Interview

In this interview, Serling speaks with writing students about writing for television. I'm guessing this is from the 60s. Sample: "It's the easiest thing on earth to come up with an idea, and the hardest thing on earth is to put it down [on paper]."

American Masters Documentary

And here's a complete ninety-minute documentary on Serling from the PBS series American Masters.

More Serling!

For more coverage of Serling, check out Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone! For Serling's last words, see The Surprising Last Words of 11 Entertainers. If you want to own the whole Twilight Zone run on DVD or Blu-ray, it takes only 28 discs.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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]

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