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11 Titanic Movie Moments Tested Against History

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Wikimedia Commons

One hundred and one years ago yesterday, the Titanic set sail for America. Although the ship never made it across the Atlantic, it’s an event that has been talked about, studied and made into a major motion picture. In James Cameron’s 1997 film of the same name, the director with a mind for perfection did his research. But did everything in the movie match up with history? Here, we pit Hollywood against history in 11 moments from the film. 

1. J. Dawson

Cameron said he didn’t realize there was actually a “J. Dawson" aboard the real Titanic until after he finished his screenplay. Some folklorists claim the “J” stands for James, but a family member in Dublin identified the man as Joseph. At 23, Joseph found his way onto the ship, channeling coal to the firemen at the furnaces. Papers reveal that he was off-duty when the ship struck the iceberg, but Dawson was quick to find his National Sailors and Firemen’s Union card before being ushered to the deck after all the boats had run out. After being recovered from the wreckage, his card identified him. Joseph Dawson is buried at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

2. The Heart of the Ocean

It wasn't a blue diamond, heart-shaped, previously owned by Louis XVI, or even called the Heart of the Ocean for that matter. But there was a necklace with a simple sapphire aboard the ship, now referred to as the Love of the Sea, worn by then-19-year-old Kate Florence Phillips. Kate planned to elope with Henry Morley—a man 20 years her senior, owner of a shop she worked in, and married—but because of the dearth of lifeboats, Henry died. 

3. John Jacob Astor

John Jacob Astor didn't perish during the sinking of the Titanic—his great-grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, did. Even after he briefly inspected, Astor didn't think the ship was in much trouble and ridiculed the idea of loading into life boats. "We are safer here than in that little lifeboat," he reportedly said. But at around 1:45 a.m., he changed his mind about the situation. Astor wasn't allowed into a lifeboat because of the women-and-children-first rule. His body was recovered Monday, April 22. 

4. "That is White Star property. You will have to pay for that."

The quote probably got a few chuckles during a serious moment, but the Titanic steward who actually said those words said he didn't know the ship was sinking at the time. Tennis pro Richard Williams said he happened upon the steward who was stuck, trying to pry a door open to another cabin when Williams rammed the door in to help him. Instead of a thanks, the steward threatened to report him for destroying White Star property. White Star furnished much of the ship's furnishings.

5. The Renault car

Everyone remembers the literally steamy love scene with Rose and Jack in the infamous Renault car. Well, maybe Rose and Jack—or anybody for all anyone knows—didn't get down in that back seat, but the 25 horsepower Renault automobile really was on board. The cargo manifest, however, reveals that it may not ever had been assembled and was actually just in a case.

6. Officer Lowe returned

In the film, Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe is seen rescuing Rose from the icy Atlantic waters. In real life, Officer Lowe really did return in a lifeboat to find survivors. But his heroic actions are often met with criticism because he waited for survivors' cries to wane down before he ushered the lifeboat to rescue. He was fearful that the boat would be swamped by a mass number of people. His lifeboat picked up only four survivors.

7. The split

James Cameron has been pretty open with the fact that he took a guess at how Titanic actually sank, but that doesn't mean he isn't interested in finding out the truth. In a 2012 documentary that aired on the National Geographic channel, which included information from recent studies about the ship, he reveals that the back end of Titanic only reached 23 degrees, far less than depicted in the 1997 film.

8. Pablo Picasso paintings

Toward the beginning of the film, Rose is shown hanging up various paintings, some by Pablo Picasso, who at the time of maiden voyage would have been barely known. None of his paintings were on the ship. The artwork depicted in the film, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, actually sits in New York City's Musem of Modern Art. Its inclusion in the film sparked complaints from the Picasso estate both when the film was released in 1997 and during its 3D re-release in 2012.

9. Iceberg pieces on deck

Rose and Jack experienced the reality of the iceberg when chunks fell onto the promenade deck. But was that something Cameron added for dramatic effect? Nope. Helen Churchill Candee, on her way to America to be with her son who was in an accident, found herself dealing with an accident of her own. After striking the iceberg she said, "The first thing I recall was one of the crew appearing with pieces of ice in his hands. He said he had gathered them from the bow of the boat." Hers is just one of many accounts of ice on the deck.

10. The band played on

As soon as it became apparent that the ship was going to sink, bandleader and violinist Wallace Henry Hartley gathered his eight-man team to play ragtime and waltzes as the ship went down. As depicted in the film, the band wanted to calm passengers who were piling into lifeboats and coming to terms with reality. Before boarding Titanic, Hartley said if he were ever on a sinking ship, he would play either "Nearer My God to Thee" or "O God Our Help in Ages Past." Several survivors and newspapers reported that the last song to be played was the former.

11. Star Alignment

Cameron has said this is the only thing he changed for 2012’s re-release of the film in 3D. For a perfectionist like Cameron, he said he was irked to find out that during the scene after the ship goes down, the position of the stars isn’t right for 4:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson is the man responsible for correcting Hollywood’s notoriously crotchety director.

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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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