Original image
Wikimedia Commons

The Names of 34 International Sesame Street Co-Productions

Original image
Wikimedia Commons

When Sesame Street debuted in 1969, many producers, teachers, and government officials from different countries contacted the Children’s Television Workshop about airing versions of Sesame Street within their own countries. Show creator Joan Ganz Cooney was astonished: “To be frank, I was really surprised, because we thought we were creating the quintessential American show," she said. "We thought the Muppets were quintessentially American, and it turns out they’re the most international characters ever created.”

Canada, Mexico, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, France, Israel, Germany, and various Caribbean nations were among the first to begin research for Sesame Street co-productions. The first international co-production to air was Brazil’s Vila Sésamo in 1972. The series ran for five years (it returned to the air in October 2007).

But some countries found Sesame Street to be too controversial for public broadcast. British broadcasters rejected the idea of creating a British version of Sesame Street, although they aired the American version on a limited basis from 1971 to 2001. Even the state of Mississippi banned the children’s television show in May of 1970.

CTW executives met with individuals from each country and worked together to develop a unique curriculum based on the needs of the country’s children. Unique characters, sets, and curriculum goals were developed for each co-production, and American cast members trained puppeteers within each country.

The goal of each Sesame Street co-production is to provide the youth in each country with a program that reflects their country’s culture, values, and educational priorities. They seek to combine universal life lessons with cultural specificity. For instance, in 2003, the South African co-production Takalani Sesame created the first HIV-positive Muppet. The Muppet, named Kami, was created to address the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Russia’s version, Ulitsa Sezam, first aired in 1996 and aimed to prepare Russian children to live in a “new open society,” although the television show is no longer played. The co-productions were also used to encourage peace and understanding among conflict-ridden regions—Shara’a Simsim tried to give Palestinian children a sense of national identity within Israel, and Hikayat Simsim aired in Jordan to “promote respect in the face of conflict.”

Other countries air dubbed American versions or spliced scenes from the American series with country-specific content, but these versions are not considered co-productions.

By 2006, there were 20 co-productions in countries all over the globe. In 2005, the New York Times reported that income from the co-productions equaled roughly $96 million. By the show’s 40th anniversary in 2009, the series was seen in over 140 countries. Currently, there are 34 Sesame Street official co-productions. Here's what they're called.

1. Afghanistan: Baghch-e-Simsim

2. Australia: Open Sesame

3. Bangladesh: Sisimpur

4. Brazil: Vila Sésamo

5. Canada: Sesame Park

6. China (Mandarin): Zhima Jie

7. Colombia: Plaza Sésamo

8. Denmark: Sesamgade

9. Egypt: Alam Simsim

10. France: 5, Rue Sésame

11. Germany: Sesamstrasse

12. India: Galli Galli Sim Sim

13. Indonesia: Jalan Sesama

14. Israel: Rechov Sumsum

15. Japan: Sesame Street Japan

16. Jordan: Hikayat Sesame

17. Kosovo: Rruga Sesam

18. Kuwait: Iftah Ya Simsim

19. Mexico: Plaza Sésamo

20. Netherlands: Sesamstraat

21. Nigeria: Sesame Square

22. Northern Ireland: Sesame Tree

23. Norway: Sesam Stasjon

24. Pakistan: Sim Sim Hamara

25. Palestine: Shara’a Simsim

26. Philippines: Sesame!

27. Poland: Ulica Sezamkowa

28. Portugal: Rua Sésamo

29. Russia: Ulitsa Sezam

30. South Africa: Takalani Sesame

31. Spain: Barrio Sésamo

32. Sweden: Svenska Sesam

33. Turkey: Susam Skokali

34. United Kingdom: Play With Me Sesame

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]