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28 Things You Might Not Have Known About The Royal Tenenbaums

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Like Eli Cash, you probably always wanted to be a Tenenbaum. Here are some facts that will help you fit right into this family of geniuses, on the 15th anniversary of its release.

1. THE PRIMARY STORY CAME OUT OF THE DIVORCE OF WES ANDERSON'S PARENTS.

Though it was partly inspired by real life, writer-director Wes Anderson admits on the film’s DVD commentary that the film itself ended up being very different from his own personal experience. Still, some small details remain, such as the fact that Ethel Tenenbaum is an archeologist, and so was Anderson’s mother. 

2. THE NAME "TENENBAUM" CAME FROM ANDERSON'S COLLEGE FRIEND.

Anderson's longtime friend, Brian Tenenbaum, appears as a paramedic in one of the film’s final scenes. Tenenbaum also appeared in Anderson’s previous films Bottle Rocket and Rushmore in similar background roles.

3. WES ANDERSON MAKES A CAMEO.

It's the filmmaker's hand that stamps the library card of the book at the beginning of the movie.

4. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS IS THE THIRD MOVIE TO BE CO-WRITTEN BY ANDERSON AND OWEN WILSON.

Buena Vista Pictures

The other two were Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. The two writers would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the movie. 

5. THE MOVIE'S TITLE CARD SCENE WAS INSPIRED BY ANOTHER FILM.

Anderson was inspired to include a title card scene featuring the actors and the characters they play after a similar scene in the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday.  It was the first image for the movie Anderson had in his head.

6. THE MICE WEREN'T ACTUALLY SPOTTED.

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The spots on Chas Tenenbaum’s fictitious dalmatian mice were created by drawing dots with a sharpie on regular mice.

7. ANDERSON INTENDED MARGOT'S WOODEN FINGER FOR A CHARACTER IN ANOTHER ONE OF HIS FILMS.

Rushmore's Margaret Yang would have had the digit blown off in a science experiment, but it was scrapped and later included in this movie. 

8. THE ROLE OF ROYAL TENENBAUM WAS WRITTEN WITH GENE HACKMAN IN MIND.

But when Anderson approached Hackman to be in the movie, the actor declined because he’d have to work for scale and didn’t like the idea of having a part written exclusively for him. His agent eventually convinced him to take the part. It was well worth it; Hackman would go on to win a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his performance. 

9. HACKMAN WASN'T THE ONLY ACTOR TO HAVE A ROLE WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR HIM.

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Anderson and co-screenwriter Wilson specifically wrote the role of Etheline for actress Anjelica Huston. She would go on to work with Anderson again in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

10. THE GO-KART SCENE WITH ROYAL, ARI, AND UZI WAS A NOD TO ANOTHER FILM.

The 1971 film The French Connection featured Hackman (who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role) and a legendary car chase sequence.

11. BEN STILLER WAS CAST AS CHAS TENENBAUM BECAUSE HE WAS AN EARLY FAN OF BOTTLE ROCKET.

Stiller liked Anderson's debut movie so much that he cast actor Owen Wilson, who played Dignan in Bottle Rocket, in The Cable Guy, which Stiller directed.

12. MARGOT AND RICHIE HIDING IN A MUSEUM OVERNIGHT WAS INSPIRED BY A CHILDREN'S BOOK.

In E.L. Konigsburg’s 1967 book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, two kids run away from home and stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The book was a favorite of Anderson’s as a child.

13. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS YOUNG RICHIE HAS A FAMOUS DAD.

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Amedeo Turturro is the son of actor John Turturro

14. ANDERSON'S BROTHER CHIPPED IN TO HELP ON THE FILM.

Eric Chase Anderson is an illustrator; he created all of Young Richie’s drawings.

15. THE BB LODGED IN CHAS'S HAND IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE INCIDENT.

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Owen Wilson shot his older brother Andrew in the hand with a BB gun when they were younger, and the hand with the BB in it shown in the movie is actually Andrew Wilson's. This isn’t his only appearance in the movie; he can also be seen as Margot’s biological Amish father and as the voice of one of the sports commentators who covers Richie’s tennis match meltdown (the other commentator’s voice is actually Wes Anderson). Wilson also played Future Man in Bottle Rocket and Coach Beck in Rushmore.

16. RICHIE'S FALCON, MORDECAI, WAS PLAYED BY THREE FALCONS AND A HAWK.

The falcons were used for close-up shots and the hawk was used for the longer flying scenes, like at the end of the film’s prologue. 

17. BILL MURRAY'S CHARACTER, RALEIGH ST. CLAIR, IS BASED ON NOTED NEUROLOGIST AND WRITER OLIVER SACKS.

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Anderson was a big fan of Sacks’s four-part documentary from 1998 called The Mind Traveler.

18. RALEIGH'S RESEARCH SUBJECT, DUDLEY, WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE PLAYED BY ANDERSON'S FRIEND AND ACTOR, WALLY WOLODARSKY.

But Wolodarsky dropped out in order to direct his own movie, Sorority Boys. Wolodarsky had previously appeared in Anderson’s movies as a wrestling referee in Rushmore, and would go on to appear as Brendan in The Darjeeling Limited, as the voice of Kylie in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and as M. Georges in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

To replace Wolodarsky, Anderson cast actor Stephen Lea Sheppard, who was recommended to him by Anderson’s friend and fellow director Judd Apatow. Sheppard was previously in Apatow’s TV show Freaks and Geeks.

19. ANDERSON WAS A BIG DANNY GLOVER FAN.

Buena Vista Pictures

The director cast the actor because he liked his performances in To Sleep with Anger, Beloved, and Witness. The name of Glover’s character, Henry Sherman, is the name of Wes Anderson’s old New York landlord, who wore blue suits similar to the ones Glover’s character wears in the movie.

20. GLOVER ISN'T THE ONLY LINK THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS HAS TO THE MOVIE WITNESS.

The line “I know you, a**hole!” that Royal screams at Eli Cash as he escapes from the house is the same exact line that Harrison Ford’s character says to Glover’s character in Witness. 

21. 111 ARCHER AVENUE ISN'T REAL, BUT THE TENENBAUMS' HOUSE IS.

It’s located at 144th Street and Convent Avenue in New York City. The production used both the exterior and the interior of the house for the movie (the only interior of the house in the movie that isn’t from the real-life location is the kitchen scene between Royal and Henry Sherman, which was shot in the house next door because it had windows). The production convinced the owner of the house, who had recently bought it in foreclosure, to delay moving in so they could renovate it as they needed. It's believed that the production paid the owner roughly the same amount the owner had paid to buy it, so the owner effectively got the house for free. 

22. THE LINDBERG PALACE HOTEL, WHERE ROYAL STAYS, ISN'T REAL EITHER.

Buena Vista Pictures

The location for the hotel was the actual exterior and lobby of the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The hotel only gave Anderson and the production two hours to get all of the shots they needed.

23. THOUGH THE MOVIE WAS SHOT IN NEW YORK, ANDERSON DIDN'T WANT TO INCLUDE ANY NYC LANDMARKS IN THE FILM.

During the scene where Pagoda meets Royal near the water, Anderson intentionally positioned the actor playing Pagoda (Kumar Pallana, who also appeared in Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited) to stand directly in front of the Statue of Liberty.

24. ONE OF RICHIE'S LINES CAME FROM ANOTHER FILM.

Richie’s seemingly bizarre line “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow,” immediately before trying to take his own life, is actually a line Anderson took verbatim from director Louis Malle’s 1963 film Le feu follet (a.k.a. The Fire Within). Spoiler: In that film, the main character actually does kill himself the day after uttering the line. 

25. RICHIE AND MARGOT'S ROMANCE IS A REFERENCE TO A FRENCH FILM.

Buena Vista Pictures

The semi-incestuous subplot is Anderson’s nod to director Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1950 film Les enfants terribles about a similar relationship between an actual brother and sister. In Tenenbaums, of course, Margot is adopted.

26. THE MOVIE PARODIES AUTHOR CORMAC MCCARTHY.

The excerpt that Eli Cash reads from his book, Old Custer, is Anderson’s parody of the style and subject matter of writer Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books like No Country for Old Men, The Road, and Blood Meridian

27. CHAS WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO WEAR A BLACK ADIDAS TRACK SUIT EACH TIME HE WENT TO THE CEMETERY.

Buena Vista Pictures

But Ben Stiller thought it would be a funnier reveal if he only wore it at Royal’s funeral.

28. ONE OF THE FINAL SHOTS IN THE MOVIE WAS DONE IN A SINGLE TAKE.

The technically complex shot moves from person to person after Eli crashes his car at the wedding. The production did 20 takes of the shot; take 18 is the take included in the final movie. 

Additional Sources: Blu-ray special features; The Wes Anderson Collection.

Screenshots courtesy of Film-Grab.com and LeaveMetheWhite.com.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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