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10 Great Discoveries of “Lost” Movies and TV Shows

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A recent study by the Library of Congress revealed that 70 percent of the 11,000 silent films produced in America have been lost forever due to time and neglect. But we shouldn't completely give up hope that some of the films won't be recovered. A number of films and even television shows once thought lost have been rediscovered, quite unexpectedly, in many unusual ways. Here are some of the more surprising finds.

1. Found on eBay: Charlie Chaplin in Zepped

In 2009, an English inventor bought a can of film for $5 on eBay, containing a 1916 Charlie Chaplin film. Not only was the film “lost,” but nobody was even aware of its existence. Though filmed in Hollywood, Charlie Chaplin in Zepped supported Britain’s World War I effort. It would be auctioned in 2011 for £100,000 ($164,070)—just before another copy of the same film was discovered at a charity shop, in a box with many other odds and ends. 

2. Found in milk churns: The Mitchell & Kenyon Collection

Filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon roamed the British Isles between 1900 and 1913, filming people in their everyday lives, news footage, and slapstick comedy that might have influenced Chaplin. Their films were missing until 1994, when two workmen, at the site of an old toyshop, found three large milk churns containing hundreds of small spools of film. How the films found their way into milk churns was unknown, and it was lucky that the highly flammable nitrate film had survived so long, in such conditions, without exploding. The discovery, however, was a buzz for historians.

3. Found in the wrong place, with the wrong title: The Sentimental Bloke

Considered by many buffs to be Australia’s greatest silent movie, The Sentimental Bloke (1919) was based on a popular poem. For decades, it was assumed that no high-quality copy existed—until an Australian archivist found it, by chance, in a U.S. archive. If it had been archived, why didn’t anyone know about it? Well, it had been relabeled “The Sentimental Blonde.” The slang word “bloke” (man) is common in Britain and Australia, but not in the U.S., so the librarian assumed that it was a misprint and helpfully “corrected” it. 

4. Left for safekeeping: Outside the Law

In the 1920s, a man who worked for Universal Pictures, delivering films around the country, left some films for safekeeping with friends in Crystal, Minnesota. He never returned for the films, and the family forgot about them for over a generation, leaving them in the barn. The films might still be there today, if a later resident had not heard film historian Bob DeFlores interviewed on radio, talking about lost films. After she called in, DeFlores discovered that the one of the films was Outside the Law (1920), a lost crime film starring Lon Chaney and directed by Tod Browning. 

5. Found in a dead man’s collection: The White Shadow

Many lost films and TV shows are jealously guarded by private collectors—and sometimes, these collectors don’t know the treasure they’re sitting on. The private collection of a New Zealand cinema projectionist was left in an archive after his death in 1989. It was not until 2011 that an American archivist was sent to investigate—and she found that the collection was far more exciting that its owner had thought. A reel labeled “Twin Sisters” was actually half of The White Shadow, a lost 1924 film whose assistant director (and writer, set designer, and editor) was a multitalented 24-year-old named Alfred Hitchcock, who would make his directing debut the next year. “Unidentified American Film,” meanwhile, was found to be part of Upstream (1927), an important John Ford comedy.

6. Found in an asylum: Tarzan and the Golden Lion

Many “lost” films have been discovered in attics, sheds, barns, flea markets, even one in a film can that was being used as a football by a bunch of schoolboys! However, few places were more unusual than a French asylum in the 1990s, where many silent films were stacked in a closet. This included the lost film Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1927), starring former All-American footballer Big Jim Pierce as Tarzan.

7. Rescued on the way to the junkyard: The Flying Doctor

In Australia, a project called the “Last Film Search” was started in the 1960s, tracking down early films before they were destroyed in the hot Australian summers. As Aussies heard about this project, some of them made daring rescues. In one case, workmen clearing a building site in Sydney opened a structure that (unknown to them) was an old vault of a demolished film studio. The vault was full of films (naturally), which were loaded into a truck to be (uh oh) taken to a local junkyard. On the way, however, they were noticed by an office worker, who chased them in his car. Like a dashing movie hero, he stopped them in the nick of time. The films were saved—most notably a lost 1936 film called The Flying Doctor. 

8. Finally uncovered by the star: The Honeymooners

For decades, fans of the classic sitcom The Honeymooners could watch only 39 episodes, shot on 35mm film during the 1955-56 season. These were shown in endless reruns. However, dozens of episodes (recorded live on kinescope film between 1951 and 1957) had been hoarded by the star of the series, Jackie Gleason. Eventually, Gleason released the “Lost Honeymooners” to the public, and this newly discovered treasure trove began airing on Showtime in 1985. The reason that Gleason finally revealed these episodes? “I’m sick of watching those other Honeymooners.” 

9. Found in the star’s garage: Richard Burton’s Hamlet

This filmed record of a very popular Broadway production in 1964, starring Burton and directed by Peter O’Toole, was thought not so much “lost” as destroyed. By contractual agreement, all prints were to be destroyed after the film’s (somewhat less than successful) cinema run. As with the play itself, the idea was that you had to be there. However, a print was unexpectedly discovered in Burton’s garage following his death in 1984. 

10. Found in the censors’ vaults: the nastiest moments from Doctor Who!

Of the classic Doctor Who episodes, 97 are missing, thanks to film and videotape being erased or junked. That sounds terrible, until you consider that, back in 1983, a total of 134 episodes were missing. Since then, several episodes have been retrieved—partly by the BBC (which has been searching to fill in the gaps in their archives) and partly by the show’s fans. One of the more unusual retrievals was in 1996, when fans noticed that the Australian Archives had several scenes on 16mm film, excised from the show for Australian broadcast. The censors had deemed these scenes—most of which last only a few seconds—to be too violent, too scary or too disturbing for children. It is ironic that, since that discovery, the censored moments of some episodes, the ones too terrible to show, are the only ones that survive!

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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