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The Province

10 Things to Remember About Annette Funicello

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The Province

It’s been a bad week for beloved public figures. As we mourn America’s Sweetheart Annette Funicello, who passed away yesterday due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis, here are 10 things to remember about her.

1. Annette was just 12 years old when Walt Disney himself discovered her. There was no audition, and Funicello wasn’t seeking fame. She was simply performing the part of the Swan Queen in an amateur production of Swan Lake. Disney happened to be in the audience - he was looking for one more kid to round out his new Mickey Mouse Club show and decided that Annette fit the bill. She was one of the only cast members to be personally chosen by Walt. 

2. Walt knew was he was doing - it didn’t take long before Annette was receiving 8,000 fan letters a month. For reference, the other cast members received maybe 800 letters monthly. Only Elizabeth Taylor got more fan correspondence. She also received watches and school rings from legions of boys across America who wanted to date her. She always returned them.

3. Thanks to her popularity, Disney decided to cast her in The Rainbow Road to Oz, a live-action film about Oz characters. Annette would play Ozma, with fellow Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie as Dorothy. The proposed multi-million dollar musical got so far that Walt gave viewers of his Disneyland TV show a little taste of what was to come, which you can see in the clip below. However, the project ended up getting tabled, and Walt decided to move forward with Babes in Toyland instead. Incidentally, Annette has said that Babes in Toyland was her favorite movie.

4. Already a TV and film star, Annette branched out into music in 1959. Her first release, “Tall Paul,” topped out at #7 on the Billboard charts, the first time a female singer had ever charted so high on the rock and roll charts. Annette was always stunned by her singing success and once said, “After each song kind of made the charts, I thought, ‘How much longer can this go on? I don’t sing!’”

5. It was largely thanks to Annette’s musical success that the famous Sherman Brothers ended up having such a long and successful career with Disney. Robert and Richard Sherman wrote “Tall Paul,” and Walt Disney took note when the song was such a commercial hit. He hired them to write for the Annette-starring made-for-TV movie The Horsemasters in 1961, and soon they became mainstays at Disney Studios. They won Oscars for their work on Mary Poppins just four years later.

6. “Toot Sweet,” also known as Paul Anka’s “It’s Really Love,” was another success for Annette in 1959. Anka later reworked it to become “Johnny’s Theme” on The Tonight Show.
For comparison, here’s Annette’s song, and here’s “Johnny’s Theme.” 

7. After a brief romance with Annette, Paul Anka wrote the song “Puppy Love” about her - and wrote it in her parents’ living room, no less. She recorded it in 1960.

Bringing Retro Back

8. From the time they were teenagers until the day she died, Annette’s best friend was fellow teen idol Shelley Fabares. They attended catechism class together as teens, then both later starred in Walt Disney Presents: Annette in 1958. Fabares was a bridesmaid in Annette’s first wedding to her agent,

9. Annette once said Walt Disney was like a second father to her. ““He was the dearest, kindest person and truly was like a second father to me,” she said. “He was a kid at heart.” And he definitely made fatherly recommendations. When she wanted to change her name to “Annette Turner,” Walt talked her out of it, saying that “Funicello” was a name people would remember. He also requested that she refrain from baring her navel in her beach movies. She said she would, but it managed to make a few appearances anyway. Despite their closeness, she only ever referred to him as “Mr. Disney.”

10. Annette went public with her MS in 1992 to combat rumors that her dizzy spells and unstable public appearances were the result of alcoholism. She remained remarkably positive about her diagnosis, saying, "I thank God I just didn't wake up one morning and not be able to walk. You learn to live with it. You learn to live with anything, you really do."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]