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5 Films That Kicked Off Award-Winning Directors' Careers

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Everyone has seen the “standards” from major, award-winning directors, but if you want the upper hand at your next trivia night, add these under-the-radar but equally impressive films to your queue and start watching for free on SnagFilms.  Sign up to watch these gems and other great movies in seconds.

1. The Grifters

Stephen Frears achieved mainstream success with High Fidelty and The Queen (not to mention directing Helen Mirren to her Oscar win), but in 1990 he directed his way to his first Academy Award nomination with The Grifters. A neo-noir thriller starring John Cusack and Angelica Huston, The Grifters answers what happens when three con-artists try to outfox each other. You can watch this and other great films in seconds by signing up for SnagFilms…you know you want to.

Fun Fact: Martin Scorsese was originally attached to direct the film, but brought on Frears and subsequently produced the film.

2. The Brother from Another Planet

John Sayles earned Oscar nominations for Lone Star and Passion Fish, but he earned his place in the cult classic hall of fame with The Brother from Another Planet. The story of a three-toed mutant alien who escapes to Harlem, The Brother from Another Planet exemplifies Sayles’ quirky sensibilities. Sign up for SnagFilms now and watch instantly.

Fun Fact: Sayles partially funded the film with earnings from a MacArthur Fellowship.

3. The Cruise

You might never have imagined that the man who directed Capote and Moneyball got his start making documentaries, but Bennett Miller’s directorial debut was the Toronto Film Festival favorite The Cruise. A profile of Timothy “Speed” Levitch, one of New York’s most unconventional tour guides, Miller finessed his ability to capture the inner lives of rich characters that has defined his narrative work. You won’t want to miss this offbeat character, and guess what: he’s on SnagFilms.

Fun Fact: Levitch capitalized off of his film debut and in 2012 landed his own show called “Up to Speed” on Hulu.

4. Il Grido

Michelangelo Antonioni, considered one of the greatest directors ever with a resume boasting Blow Up and L’avventura, began racking in the awards with his 1957 classic Il Grido.  A key transitional film from his neo-realist documentary roots to the elliptical, aimless structure of his later masterpieces, Il Grido follows a man as he drifts from town to town, away from the woman he loved. Come on, we dare you—watch on SnagFilms now.

Fun Fact: Antonioni, who was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1995, is noted in Oscar lore with the shortest acceptance speech ever: “Grazie.”

5. Benny’s Video

Although American audiences might know Michael Haneke after his most recent, stunning Academy Award winner Amour, his first major directorial work packed just as much of a punch. With Benny’s Video, which is centered on a disturbed young teenager who views his life as distilled video images, Haneke began to develop his signature, static style. Watch the horror-of-personality classic on SnagFilms by signing up now.

Fun Fact: Haneke worked in television for over 20 years before he tried his hand at film. Looks like it worked out for him.
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With SnagFilms, you can watch all of these films and thousands more instantly and for free. Register now and you’ll be one step closer to movie-watching bliss.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]