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11 Oo-De-Lally Facts About Robin Hood

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Hollywood has come up with countless versions of Robin Hood and his Merry Men over the years, but only one of them stars a fox, a badger, and a wolf. If Disney's 1973 version of Robin Hood is one of your favorite adaptations (along with this one, of course), read on for a few fun facts.

1. Robin Hood was the result of another movie getting canned.

Disney had been considering making a movie about Reynard the Fox since at least the 1930s. Reynard was a lesser-known fable from the 1100s that told the tales of a scoundrel fox. The problem was, Reynard skewed more toward villain than antihero, which ended up being a challenge for the writers. Despite scripts and storyboards, the Reynard movie still hadn’t come to fruition more than two decades later. Animator Ken Anderson eventually blended the idea into the Robin Hood script, reasoning that Robin Hood’s outlaw status made him sort of Reynard-like.

2. Robin's voice, Brian Bedford, is a Shakespearean-Trained Actor.

The Tony Award-winning Brian Bedford is well known for his Shakespearean work, including acting and directing in the Stratford Festival.

3. “The Phony King of England” was likely based on a real song.

It has been said, but never confirmed, that author Rudyard Kipling penned the lyrics to the bawdy pub song “The Bastard King of England.” Whoever’s responsible, it’s likely that the much tamer “The Phony King of England” was inspired by the dirty version. Have a listen:

4. There's a notable fight song during a chase sequence.

The University of Wisconsin’s fight song, “On Wisconsin,” makes an appearance when Lady Kluck takes on the hippo guards.

5. Allan-a-Dale the Rooster may sound familiar to you.

Roger Miller was a respected singer-songwriter in Nashville long before Disney recruited him to voice and write songs for Allan-a-Dale. Miller worked with legends like Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, George Jones, and Ernest Tubb before writing his biggest hit, “King of the Road.”

6. A deleted scene shows another one of Prince John’s schemes.

In it, Prince John dictates a letter to Sir Hiss in which he pretends to be Maid Marian. It’s all part of luring Robin Hood into a trap, of course. You can see the storyboards with rough voiceover work here.

7. “Love” was nominated for an Oscar.

The ballad that plays while Robin and Marian make eyes at each other was written by Floyd Huddleston and George Bruns. Nancy Adams, Huddleston’s wife, provided Maid Marian’s singing voice for the song. Though "Love" was nominated at the 1974 Academy Awards, it lost to “The Way We Were” from the movie of the same name.

8. Robin Hood reuses pieces of other Disney movies.

The dance sequence that goes with “The Phony King of England” was made from a potpourri of dances from other Disney movies, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Aristocats. This was achieved by an animation technique called “rotoscoping,” where animators trace over the frames of old footage to use it in a different environment.

9. Friar Tuck was originally a pig.

Animator Ken Anderson first conceived Friar Tuck as a pig, but then decided that the church might take that particular depiction as a slight. He’s not the only character that switched animals: the Sheriff of Nottingham was supposed to be a goat, but changed to a wolf to seem more villainous.

10. Robin was wounded in an alternate ending.

Near the end of the movie, Robin is struck by an arrow and whisked off to the safety of a church. Prince John finds his hideout and is about to kill both Robin and Maid Marian when King Richard bursts in, back from the Crusades. From there on out, the ending is about the same: Prince John and his cohorts are banished to the rock pile, and Robin and Marian get married. Check out the storyboards:

11. It was Disney's biggest hit.

Despite mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, Robin Hood ended up doing very well at the box office, taking in $9.5 million. At the time, it was Disney’s biggest box office total to date.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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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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