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11 Fun Facts about Airstream Trailers

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You’ve seen them on the road or in films and TV, but how much do you really know about the super-hip silver trailer? In the late 1920s, Airstream’s founder Wallace (Wally) Merle Byam created a travel trailer in his backyard to satisfy his wife’s refusal to camp without her kitchen and her dislike of sleeping on the ground. Their travels with this trailer generated such interest Byam began fulfilling folks' requests for trailers in his backyard, which led to selling plans in the back of magazines and eventually the 1932 founding of the Airstream Trailer Company. Here are 11 facts about the revolutionary trailers.

1. Wally Byam was a ridiculously quotable marketing genius.

If he were around today, he’d be the king of the sound bites. Here's a sample of a few of his bon mots

"It’s better to wear out than to rust out."

"Adventure is where you find it, any place, every place, except at home in the rocking chair."

"France is the trailer paradise of the world."

"If you don’t know what else to do, drink beer."

"Just as all the world loves a lover, it has been my experience that all the world loves a trailerite." 

2. Vincent Price narrated a miniseries about the Airstream.

In the 1950s, Wally Byam organized Airstream caravans to various exotic overseas locales, a tradition that continued after his death in 1961. These trips, put together by the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), generated much excitement and buzz both in the places visited and back home in the USA. Wally wrote, “we feel that we have spread more honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth goodwill in the countries we’ve visited than all the striped-pants diplomats put together.”

From 1963 to 1964, the Around the World Caravan did just what its name suggested, closely following an historic route mapped by Marco Polo in the late thirteenth century.  The group started in Singapore and 403 days and 31,000 miles later ended the caravan in Lisbon, Portugal. The National Geographic Society documented this trip, and in 1966 the “Around the World Caravan” miniseries appeared on television, narrated by the spooky actor. Price commented on the event, “A flying saucer landing could not have created more of an interest than an Airstream caravan.”

3.    There was a square Airstream.

Silver Bullet, Silver Burrito, Silver Twinkie; Canned ham, Toaster-on-Wheels … there are many nicknames for the iconic silver streamlined design, but from 1986 to 1991 a new shape was added to the mix. These squared off Airstreams (there were two models: a traditional travel trailer and a 5th wheel) closely resembled the familiar boxy blueprint of non-Airstream RVs, but die-hard fans were not amused. At the time, the “Squarestream” was banned from the Wally Byam Caravan Club (a decision that has since been reversed) and the company’s decision to produce them was compared to the “New Coke” debacle of the 1980s. 

4. There are eight Airstreams buried nose down in the ground next to I-4 in 15 miles from Tampa, Florida. (Exit 14 on the I-4, near Dover).

Known as the Airstream Ranch, this homage/eyesore/art installation (depending on your perspective) was almost sent to the junk pile after local businesses complained it was a visual nuisance. Ten thousand people signed a petition to save it and in 2012, a judge declared the grouping not junk, a sign or illegal storage of the trailers—and the Airstreams remain. Whether or not it’s art is still up for debate.

5.    Though the company’s product is often referred to as the “Silver Bullet” Airstream’s Silver Cloud model was not silver, nor bullet shaped. 

Early models were made of Masonite, a type of hardboard made of pressed-wood fibers with a wood frame.  These trailers were teardrop shaped and two-toned. The 1936 Airstream Clipper was the first bullet shaped Airstream made of riveted aluminum—and kind of looked like an alien.

6. Before all the hipsters were doing it this century, in the 1950s, Byam recommended using the Chemex coffee maker.

 “I personally like the Chemex outfit with filter papers," Byam once wrote. “I wish Chemex would make this deal out of stainless steel, as I am continually breaking the glass coffee makers they provide.” Both the Chemex coffee maker and an Airstream trailer have been on display at the MOMA in New York City. 

7. Aluminum trailers (including Airstream) stopped production during WWII.

Airstream stopped production during WWII as aluminum was classified as a critical war material and the War Production Board ordered the suspension of the production of travel trailers for personal use.  Wally shut the plant in 1942, but reformed Airstream, Inc in 1948 with the Airstream Liner.

8. There are Airstream hotels in France and South Africa.

South Africa’s Granddaddy Hotel created a rooftop Airstream trailer park by hoisting the trailers up top by crane.  France’s BelRepayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park not only has Airstreams to rent as rooms; there’s an Airstream bar called the Apollo Lounge. If you don’t want to travel that far to stay in an Airstream for a night, there are plenty of Airstream hotels, bed and breakfasts and permanent trailer parks here in the US.

9. The look of the Airstream trailer was inspired by the Streamline Moderne design aesthetic. 

A stripped-down version of the Art Deco movement, a streamlined design did influence function (think Streamliner trains) but “streamlining” eventually evolved into a design trend that suggested forward movement and speed with a futuristic appeal.  It was extremely popular in the 1930s and 40s and was applied to stationary objects such as toasters, staplers and alarm clocks among many other things.  Oddly enough, this look has endured and retained its appeal and futuristic feel.

10. Pamela Anderson once owned an Airstream equipped with a stripper pole. 

Dubbed the “Lovestream,” this all-white Airstream was a gift from Hugh Hefner in 2001. The trailer contains Playboy logos on the couch, mirrored ceilings, white shag carpeting, and a circular vibrating bed.

11. Trailering was so popular in the early days of Airstream that in the mid 1930s there were about 48 trailer companies, but within 5 years there were 400.

Airstream is the only one that remains today.  Though in 2013 the Bowlus Road Chief—the first riveted aluminum trailer that served as inspiration for Airstream’s iconic design—was reissued by a longtime enthusiast.   

In the new book Airstream: The Silver RV, Tara Cox discusses the history of the famous trailer and how it became an American icon. You can pre-order the book here.  

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]