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6 Awesome Things Bill Murray Has Done

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Netflix just put out this teaser for Bill Murray's Christmas special. If it leaves you wanting more, you're in the right place. The actor is known for popping up and doing something awesome every once in awhile. Here are a few of our favorite things Murray has done.

1. Looked great in this Christmas Card

“How and why I got this from Bill Murray, I have no idea!” wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper once tweeted. (The Frisky also published this card in 2012.)

It should come as no surprise that, in addition to looking great on holiday cards, the actor throws epic Christmas parties, which he told Esquire include an ice luge for booze:

It's a big magilla to get an ice luge, but if you do, you can pour vodka into it and it chills it on the way down. It looks like an Olympic ski jump. It's more for visual effect. You can put your head underneath it, like you're guzzling gasoline, but we just fill shot glasses. Hundreds of little shot glasses. So, we drank this stuff, and it took the party to a completely other level. The party lasted much longer. No one left. The year before, people would leave at, like, two or three in the morning. With the vodka luge, they didn't leave until five. The last two years I've had this luge. That's how I like to drink. Out of a large ice structure.

Murray Christmas, indeed.

2. Karaoked with Total Strangers

The Chive

When a group of karaokers saw Murray enter NYC's Karaoke One 7 one night in January 2011, one of them worked up the courage to invite the movie star into their private karaoke room. Fifteen minutes later, Murray knocked on their door. "He was super nice and they all fit right in," one of the karaoke crew, Mike, told The Chive. "He bought us all a round of some weird green drink and wouldn't tell us what it was. ... The high point was when Bill and I sang a duet of an Elvis song called, 'Marie's the Name.'" Murray and his friends stuck around for the next four hours.

3. Plays Kickball with Random People

Entertainment Weekly

Kickballers enjoying a game on Roosevelt Island in October 2012 when Murray "popped out of nowhere," team member Chris DiLella told EW. "He was bouncing the ball… ran over to second base. Played for a bit… Gave us all high-fives and let us pose with him in the picture."

4. Gave a few fans something better than an autograph

New {fake} Trailer from David Walton Smith on Vimeo.

Why ask for Bill Murray's autograph when you can ask him to stroll down a hallway with you in slow motion? David Walton Smith told Reelz that he was making a commercial for a school in South Carolina that one of Murray's children attends; Murray was appearing in the spot. Smith didn't want to give Murray a bunch of things to autograph at the end of the shoot, and instead proposed asking the actor to walk with him and his friends down the hallway (they slowed it to slow motion in post). Murray, of course, obliged.

5. Bartended at SXSW

During a visit to Austin's Shangri-La during SXSW 2010, Murray hopped behind the bar to serve drinks (apparently, even if a patron asked for whiskey, he'd give them tequila). Someone caught it all on video, which you can see above.

6. Got invited to a party, did the host’s dishes

Even when he's crashing parties, Bill Murray is polite. During a 2006 trip to St. Andrews, Scotland, for a celebrity golf tournament, Murray accompanied 22-year-old anthropology student Lykke Stavnef—whom he and his friends had met in a bar—to a house party. "Nobody could believe it when I arrived at the party with Bill Murray," she told The Telegraph. Murray then washed all the dishes in the students' sink. "It was really funny because he was pretty old compared with all the other people there, but he was so relaxed and it was really amusing when he started to wash up," Stavnef said.

He also gave an excellent, impromptu speech at a bachelor party in Charleston last Memorial Day Weekend.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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