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5 Stories About Shirley Temple

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Former child actress Shirley Temple has passed away at the age of 85. But thanks to DVDs (and Turner Classic Movies), she will remain a dimpled, curly-topped 5-year-old for generations to come. We hope you enjoy these stories about the life and career of Shirley Temple Black.

1. Pre-Natal Stage Mother

Gertrude Temple, Shirley’s mother, already had two sons by the time she was expecting Shirley. Gertrude was a frustrated dancer herself, having grown too tall as a teen to become the ballerina she longed to be. While pregnant with what she hoped would be a daughter, Gertrude played music constantly on the phonograph and radio in an attempt to bless her child with an artistic bent. Shirley was walking by age 13 months, and at age two she tapped her feet rhythmically to music, so the next step for any Hollywood hopeful was dancing school.

2. Cold Feet? No, Cold Seat!

Shirley started taking dancing lessons at the tender age of three. A Hollywood scout spotted her at the dance studio and hired her along with some other children to star in a series of one-reel films called Baby Burlesks. Each film featured children aged three to five dressed in grown-up clothes from the waist up and oversized diapers below, playing adults and reenacting scenes from films such as The Front Page and What Price Glory.

The advent of talking pictures brought with it the invention of the Black Box. It was a portable work station used by sound technicians, six feet square on wheels, with a thick glass viewing port covered by a heavy curtain. The boxes were also soundproof, which made them hot and humid, and the only way to cool them at the time was with a large block of ice. There were two such boxes on the Baby Burlesks sound stage, but only one was used for sound mixing. The other was used to lock up any child actor who suddenly became uncooperative or troublesome while filming. Placed inside the dark enclosure, the child would soon tire of standing, and the only place to sit was on the block of ice. (Parents were not allowed on the set, and the studio conveniently kept the Child Welfare Worker secluded in a separate room outfitted with a radio, refreshments and a sofa.) Shirley reported that after a few confinements in the Black Box (with resultant ear infections), she learned some important show biz lessons: Pay attention. Time is money. Do as you're told. Get it right the first time. She attributes these lessons learned at age four to her later success; indeed, it was her professionalism as much as her shiny curls that led to her lucrative contract with 20th Century Fox.

3. A Quick Study

Young Shirley had a near-photographic memory, and knew not only all of her lines but also everyone else’s after her mother read the script to her. Her mother was also careful to explain to Shirley that what she was doing on the movie set was just “playing pretend”—it wasn’t real. Shirley took this advice to heart; after filming a scene in Our Little Girl that required her to snap at co-star Lyle Talbot “And, anyway, I don’t even like you,” the youngster said to the actor solemnly, “I’m sorry, Mr. Talbot, but that line is in the script. I really do like you.”

4. Just a Normal Kid … Sorta

The Temples did their best to keep Shirley’s childhood as normal as possible. Well, as normal as can be expected when, at age six, she was out-earning her father, and famous folk like Eleanor Roosevelt and Noel Coward came all the way to the 20th Century Fox lot just to meet her. Mrs. Temple asked the parents of Shirley’s neighborhood friends not to let their kids see any of Shirley’s films so that they wouldn’t treat her as “special” or different, and she didn’t allow Shirley to read any of her fan mail until she was much older. Nevertheless, Shirley couldn’t help but pick up some adult phrases from her co-stars, to her mother’s chagrin. She once overheard her 6-year-old daughter tell her checkers opponent, “There aren’t any spots on your suit, but you’re going to the cleaners!”

5. It’s Not Brain Surgery

Shirley retired from show business at age 21 with no regrets. She was financially secure, since her banker father had wisely invested the millions she’d earned as a child. (Not to mention her second husband, Charles Black, was a very successful business executive.) As a youngster she’d always wanted to go to medical school to become a brain surgeon, but as an adult she decided no one would want “Shirley Temple” as their doctor. Instead, she entered the world of politics. President Richard Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations in 1969, and she impressed everyone with her natural diplomacy and her ability to absorb arcane information from briefings immediately (both legacies of her acting career). In 1974, she was appointed American Ambassador to Ghana, a country where very few people had ever seen her films and no one asked her to sing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” She went to to work as the Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and as the U.S. Chief of Protocol—the first woman to hold the position. 

All photos courtesy of Getty Images

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.