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8 Films You Might Not Know Started as Stage Productions

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Movie Clips Classic Trailers // YouTube

Plenty of the Great White Way’s most notable productions have been reincarnated for the silver screen—think Rent, The Producers, and Chicago. But Off-Broadway and Broadway’s best have also spawned plenty of big screen versions that some people don’t realize started as live theatrical experiences.

1. Casablanca

One of cinema’s most beloved and enduring classics is known for a few things (incorrectly reiterated quotes are one of them), but few people remember that the Michael Curtiz film was first crafted as a stage play. Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s Everybody Comes To Rick’s was never actually put on the stage, but the duo did option the work to Warner Bros. in 1942 for the then-record price of $20,000. The pair wrote the play in 1940, inspired by a trip Burnett and his wife took to Vienna, where they helped some Jewish relatives smuggle money out, and a later jaunt to a small town in France which was home to an intimate nightclub with a mixed clientele (and a jazz pianist).

2. Dial M For Murder

Alfred Hitchcock’s thrilling 1954 classic is tense and taut enough that it’s easy to forget that the feature could quite easily take place in just a single setting. What often has a single setting? Stage plays! Dial M for Murder first came to life as a Frederick Knott play that actually made its debut on BBC Television in 1952. It hit the stage later that year, first in London’s West End, then on Broadway.

3. A Few Good Men

Rob Reiner’s 1992 military courtroom drama is memorable on its own, simply for all the outsized personalities that populate it (“You can’t handle the truth!”), so it’s hard to imagine soaking all that drama in live. Well, audiences did—and still do!

First performed on Broadway in 1989, playwright Aaron Sorkin then adapted the work into the screenplay that became Reiner’s Tom Cruise- and Jack Nicholson-starring film. The play is still performed today, and has torn up stages from Texas to Budapest.

4. Nell

Considering that the eponymous “wild child” role of Nell is one of Jodie Foster’s most well-known and regarded roles, it doesn’t seem possible that she’s not the one who originated it. But, you guessed it, she isn’t.

What became the film Nell was first the play Idioglossia, penned by Mark Handley in 1992. The film hit screens just two years later, hewing close to the work that Handley first brought to the stage. Though its title changed, the aims remained the same—for fans of Nell, the definition of “idioglossia” is a canny one, as it describes “an idiosyncratic language that few speak.”

5. Prelude to a Kiss

Back in 1992, Meg Ryan reigned supreme as romantic comedy queen, and the amusing and sweet body switching comedy Prelude to a Kiss was a pretty perfect match for both her and costar Alec Baldwin. Although the Norman Rene feature was a light-hearted outing, Craig Lucas’ 1988 play on which it was based was far more serious, and was believed to provide intense commentary on the then-new AIDS epidemic. The play is still performed today; there was a full-scale Broadway revival starring Alan Tudyk and John Mahoney in 2007.

6. Rope

Look, another Hitchcockian thriller! The master of suspense didn’t limit his stage play pillaging to Dial M for Murder—he also did it with 1948’s Rope, six years before picking up the phone and ringing up homicide. Based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play of the same name, Hitchcock’s film earned accolades for its famous long take style, which made it appear to play out continuously in real time. Even Hamilton’s play didn’t go that far—the stage version plays out over three acts, with a curtain fall in between each.

7. Steel Magnolias

Before Shelby drank her juice to the dulcet tones of Sally Field just screaming her brains out, the same thing played out on stage. Herbert Ross’ enduring 1989 classic of American womanhood and experience is based on Robert Harling’s 1987 play of the same name, which was in turn based on Harling’s own wrenching experience of losing his sister to diabetes after the birth of his nephew.

Harling’s play was recently turned into yet another cinematic adaptation—Kenny Leon’s 2012 Lifetime feature that used an entirely African-American cast to tell the story of a tight-knit group of Southern women. Steel Magnolias the stage play most recently embarked on a country-wide tour in Ireland back in 2012.

8. Closer

Playwright Patrick Marber quite skillfully adapted his own 1997 play for the 2004 Mike Nichols film, a dramatic outing that features the talents of Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Jude Law. A twisted tale of two couples (sort of?) that mix and mingle in London in quite possibly the worst ways imaginable, the award-winning play placed a premium on its four central characters, layered individuals that translated well to the big screen. Marber’s play first showed around London and Broadway, and it continues to play around the world. It was recently translated into German, showing under the title Hautnah. 

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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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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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