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17 Straightforward Facts About The Sixth Sense

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M. Night Shyamalan’s story about eight-year-old Cole Sear seeing dead people captivated a large enough audience to become the highest grossing movie of 1999 that didn’t feature a character named Jar Jar Binks. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, a particularly impressive feat for a thriller/horror movie. Below are some nuggets about The Sixth Sense just for the living.

1. THE DISNEY EXECUTIVE WHO BOUGHT THE SCRIPT WAS FIRED BECAUSE OF IT.

Walt Disney Studios' then-president David Vogel didn’t bother to consult with his superiors before paying $2.25 million for the rights to The Sixth Sense, and agreed to let Shyamalan direct the already-expensive film. Vogel’s boss was livid when he found out about the deal, and demanded that Vogel relinquish some of his power. When Vogel refused, he was canned.

2. IT WAS ONE OF THREE FILMS BRUCE WILLIS STARRED IN AS PART OF A SETTLEMENT WITH DISNEY.

A couple years before The Sixth Sense was released, Willis was slated to star in another Disney film, the ill-fated Broadway Brawler. It did not go well. Willis, who was both producing and starring in the film, fired most of the crew—including the director—less than three weeks into production. The turmoil forced Disney to abandon the movie altogether, to the tune of a $17.5 million loss. To make up for it, Willis signed a three-picture contract with the studio in which a portion of his salary would go back to covering their losses on Broadway Brawler. The first of those three was Armageddon, the second was The Sixth Sense (for which he earned $10 million), followed by The Kid.

3. MICHAEL CERA AUDITIONED TO PLAY COLE.

Cera, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered getting the tone of the scene all wrong in his audition. Instead of crying like Haley Joel Osment did in the film, he played the scene as “upbeat.” Before Osment got the part, Liam Aiken was offered the role, but turned it down.

4. OSMENT WAS VERY PREPARED BY THE TIME HE AUDITIONED.

Haley’s father, Eugene Michael Osment, is a theater and movie actor who made sure his son read the entire screenplay twice. He told him that it wasn’t a horror movie, it was a movie about communication. Once Haley finished the audition and left the room, Shyamalan told his casting director he wasn’t sure he wanted to even make the movie if Osment wasn’t in it.

5. MARISA TOMEI WAS ALMOST COLE’S MOTHER.

Tomei lost out to Toni Collette. Collette had ambivalent feelings when she found out from her agent that she got the part, as she had her heart set on being cast in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, Bringing Out the Dead.

6. DONNIE WAHLBERG LOST 43 POUNDS TO PLAY VINCENT GREY.

The former New Kid on the Block wanted to prove that he was serious about pursuing an acting career.

7. SHYAMALAN REGRETTED CASTING HIMSELF AS DR. HILL.

He did it as a “nice little thing” to acknowledge his parents, who are both doctors. Unfortunately, the actor Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan wasn’t good enough for his director: He thought his acting was so bad that he cut most of his scene.

8. THE COLOR RED WAS SYMBOLIC.

Shyamalan explained that anything “tainted” from the ghost world or that had some connection to it was colored red in the movie, like the basement doorknob, or the dress of the killer mom.

9. THERE WAS A REASON WHY OSMENT NEVER GOT COLD.

According to the film’s logic, it’s only when a ghost got upset that the temperature dropped.

10. PATCHES OF WHITE HAIR WERE ALSO IMPORTANT.

Osment and Donnie Wahlberg’s character, who also saw dead people, both had some white hair on their heads. Shyamalan decided that all “spirit spotters” would have one similar physical attribute.

11. OSMENT’S FATHER TOLD BRUCE WILLIS TO YELL AT HIS SON TO GET HIM TO CRY.

When Haley couldn’t manage to cry in a scene where he was supposed to, Eugene suggested to Willis that he yell his lines off-camera to his son to get the waterworks going. It worked.

12. STRANGE THINGS HAPPENED TO TONI COLLETTE DURING FILMING.

In her Philadelphia hotel room, she always woke up in the middle of the night and always to a repeating number—1:11, 3:33, or 4:44.

13. MISCHA BARTON ACTUALLY THREW UP BREAKFAST CEREAL.

Future The O.C. star Mischa Barton played Kyra Collins, the little girl who was killed by her mother. The “vomit” was actually a breakfast cereal mix that she would hold in her mouth and spit up. Barton didn’t tell her friends she was in the movie, which caused one of them to run out of a screening, horrified that her friend had just died in front of her eyes.

14. WILLIS DJ'ED ON WEEKENDS.

He spun some records at crew parties at the Philadelphia Convention Center some weekends in the fall of 1998, when filming took place.

15. A GRAPHIC SCENE WAS DELETED.

Osment remembered shooting a scene where he looked out a window and saw an entire hospital wing of “horribly disfigured and mutilated people.” Shyamalan cut it from the movie, possibly to protect its PG-13 rating.

16. THE MOVIE WAS RELEASED ON SHYAMALAN’S 29TH BIRTHDAY.

The Sixth Sense was released on August 6, 1999. Because that also happened to be the director's 29th birthday, he took it as a sign that The Sixth Sense was “being guided.” His first two movies1992's Praying With Anger and 1998's Wide Awake—grossed $350,000 combined. The Sixth Sense made more than $8 million on its opening day.

17. IT’S SIMILAR TO AN EPISODE OF ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?

As the internet has pointed out, the 1994 episode “The Tale of the Dream Girl” shares a similar storyline to The Sixth Sense, where a teenager named Johnny doesn’t realize that he’s dead until the very end of the episode, even though the only living person that talks to him is his sister Erica. (The audience doesn't realize it either.)

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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