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Futurepedia

25 Fun Facts About Back to the Future

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Futurepedia

A few things you might not know about Marty, Doc, and Doc's pet chimpanzee.

1. The script was rejected over 40 times by every major studio.

"Some more than once," co-creator Bob Gale told CNN.

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2. Disney execs thought it was too dirty.

"You've got the kid and the mother in his car!" they told Gale and director Robert Zemeckis. "It's incest!"

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3. Worried that people would shun a film with 'future' in its name, a studio exec tried to change Back to the Future to Spaceman From Pluto.

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4. Executive Producer Steven Spielberg sent back a thank you note for the 'humorous memo.'

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5. At no point in any of the Back to the Future movies did anyone predict the Florida Marlins would win the 1997 World Series.

Or the 2003 World Series. I don't care what that email forward says.

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6. But the Internet will melt if the Cubs somehow win the 2015 World Series.

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7. When Marty McFly was 13 or 14, he snuck into Doc's lab and wound up getting a part-time job.

In 2011, Bob Gale told mental_floss the origin of Marty and Doc's friendship:

"He snuck into Doc’s lab, and was fascinated by all the cool stuff that was there. When Doc found him there, he was delighted to find that Marty thought he was cool and accepted him for what he was. Both of them were the black sheep in their respective environments. Doc gave Marty a part-time job to help with experiments, tend to the lab, tend to the dog, etc."

When Slate wrote a story questioning whether Bob Gale was actually behind the explanation, he sent us this:

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8. In the early drafts of Back to the Future, the time machine was made out of an old refrigerator...

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9. ...and Doc Brown had a pet chimpanzee.

The head of Universal was anti-chimpanzee: "I looked it up," he said, "no movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money."

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10. In an early draft of Back to the Future II, Marty travels to 1967, where he's arrested for not having a draft card.

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11. The Back to the Future II promotional sunglasses sold at Pizza Hut are available on eBay.

Get yours today.

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12. Princess Diana attended the London premiere in 1985.

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13. Ronald Reagan was offered the role of Hill Valley's mayor in Back to the Future III.

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14. While that didn't work out, Reagan did quote the film in his 1986 State of the Union: "Where we're going, we don't need roads."

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15. As you surely noticed when you were eight years old, the Twin Pines Mall becomes the Lone Pine Mall.

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16. Tom Wilson (Biff) has a handy card with answers to all your BTTF questions.

via @LettersofNote

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17. In the window of the Cafe 80s, Marty sees several Nintendo games...

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18. ...a Roger Rabbit doll...

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19. ...an iron, and a Dustbuster.

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20. Elijah Wood made his film debut in Back to the Future II as the kid playing the arcade game Wild Gunman in the Cafe 80s.

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21. John DeLorean wrote Bob Gale a letter, thanking him for "keeping my dream alive."

ROGER RESSMEYER/CORBIS

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22. The school that served as Hill Valley High School in Back to the Future was Whittier High—Richard Nixon's alma mater.

BTTFTour.com

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23. In Back to the Future II, an old newspaper in the alternate 1985 reads, “Nixon to Seek Fifth Term; Vows End to Vietnam War by 1985.”

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24. The whole Hill Valley Telegraph is worth another look.

As Jonathan Chiat noted in an excellent round-up of the paper's front pages for New York Magazine, "It is unclear why the Telegraph’s editors would devote such extensive space to Biff Tannen gambling coverage."

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25. In the early-1990s Back to the Future cartoon, Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) was the voice of Doc Brown.

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A Back to the Future musical is headed for London next year. Zemeckis and Gale are on board.

Sources: CNN, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, BTTF.com, The Worlds of Back to the Future: Critical Essays on the Films, Futurepedia, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Script Shadow. Image credits: Getty Images, Corbis, Thinkstock, Universal, BTTFTours.com, Futurepedia.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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