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McCord Museum

The Unintentionally Prophetic Youppi! Cartoon

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McCord Museum

When I first asked Terry Mosher, who works under the nom de plume Aislin—a variation of his eldest daughter's name—about his Youppi! cartoon, he asked me which one I meant. Not only has the provocative political cartoonist drawn over 10,000 cartoons during his illustrious career—syndicated in newspapers across Canada and internationally—but he has also made the former Expos mascot a frequent subject.

In fact, the lifelong baseball fan is a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which is responsible for electing new members into the Hall of Fame. Mosher recounts how in his first year of voting eligibility in 1991, Canadian pitcher Fergie Jenkins was elected to the Hall of Fame by a margin of one vote—a fact Mosher happily takes credit for.

The cartoon I originally had in mind is a particularly prescient one from 1988. Then-general manager of the Canadiens is shown fielding a call from the then-Expos mascot while a newspaper headline declares the "Expos Flat." The implication seems to be that, with his baseball team on the skids, the giant, fuzzy, orange creature (he was designed by Bonnie Erickson, creator of Miss Piggy and several other Muppets) might be driven to look elsewhere for work. And eventually, he did. It would take another 17 years, but Youppi! would become the first mascot to ever make the jump from the baseball diamond to the hockey rink when he joined the Habs in 2005.

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Mosher doesn't claim to have had nearly two decade of preemptive insight, though. Instead, he chalks the cartoon up to the Expos' frustrating inconsistency in the 1980s. But he, like Youppi!, found comfort in the Habs after baseball abandoned Montreal, directing his fandom towards hockey for the time being.

To supplement what can be found online, Mosher sent us a selection of other Youppi! cartoons that, taken together, effectively chronicle the Expos' experience:

In this early cartoon, Youppi! looks jubuliant to be driving the "Bus Squad", the nickname given to the 1979 Expos' effective bench players.

Aislin: Montreal Gazette

A Spanish-speaking Youppi! expresses excitement for the Expos' brief but popular stint in Puerto Rico, where they played 22 of their home games in 2003.

Aislin: Montreal Gazette

Later, Mosher imagines a devastated Youppi! taking drastic action after being abandoned by the Expos.

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But ultimately, Youppi! dons a new uniform for his new role with the Canadiens.

Aislin: Montreal Gazette

If you're interested in seeing more of Mosher's Expos work —including actual players, not just mascots—check out Jonah Keri's Up, Up, and Away: The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball, and the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Exposwhich is filled with contemporary Aislin cartoons, and provides a little more detail about the team's history than this post. 

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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