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17 Truthful Facts About A Few Good Men

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Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin first came to the public's attention after writing the legal drama A Few Good Men, first as a play, then as a film. Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore starred in the 1992 Rob Reiner-directed movie about two U.S. Marines who are court-martialed for the murder of a fellow Marine, purportedly under orders from their higher-ups. Here are some truths about the critically-acclaimed courtroom drama that you can definitely handle.

1. AARON SORKIN WROTE THE PLAY ON BAR NAPKINS WHILE BARTENDING.

Sorkin’s older sister, Deborah, had recently joined the Navy JAG Corps fresh from graduating from law school when she called him one Sunday morning. Deborah told Aaron about a case she was working on involving a hazing gone wrong at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, where the accused said they were ordered to do it by a superior, involving a “Code Red.” Sorkin then went to work as a bartender at Broadway's Palace Theatre. While patrons were taking in the first act of La Cage aux Folles, he began writing A Few Good Men on some cocktail napkins. He went home that night and typed up what he had written on the napkins on a Mac 512 K he shared with his roommates, and continued to do so until he was finished.

2. LINDA HAMILTON AND JODIE FOSTER AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF LT. COMMANDER GALLOWAY.

A then-eight-months-pregnant Demi Moore ended up getting the part, and was paid $2 million for the role.

3. JASON ALEXANDER WAS SET TO PLAY LT. SAM WEINBERG.

But when Seinfeld was renewed by NBC for a second season, he was no longer available. Reiner then gave Kevin Pollak the part after he read with Cruise.

4. TOM CRUISE SAW THE BROADWAY PLAY BEFORE SIGNING ON TO PLAY LT. KAFFEE.

He also insisted on learning all of the “legalese” dialogue in the script.

5. LANCE CPL. HAROLD DAWSON WAS PLAYED BY ROB REINER’S PERSONAL ASSISTANT.

Wolfgang Bodison started in the mail room at Reiner’s production company, Castle Rock, before becoming a production assistant, then Reiner’s personal assistant on Misery. He was scouting locations for A Few Good Men when Reiner decided Bodison looked like a Marine and that he should act in the film. Bodison has gone on to act in other films, as well as write and direct.

6. JOSHUA MALINA WAS IN BOTH THE BROADWAY PLAY AND THE MOVIE.

Frequent Sorkin collaborator Joshua Malina played PFC Downey for the last six to eight months of the stage production. He played Tom, Colonel Jessup’s clerk, in the movie. It was his first feature film role.

7. DESCENDANTS OF HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS TOOK PART IN THE PRODUCTION.

Frank Capra III was first assistant director. Marlene Dietrich’s grandson, J. Michael Riva, was the production designer.

8. JACK NICHOLSON WAS PAID $5 MILLION FOR 10 DAYS OF WORK.

Nicholson, as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, was in just three scenes in the entire movie. Technically he worked an extra morning for free when Reiner and crew didn’t get all of his footage shot in time.

9. NICHOLSON DID A LOT MORE WORK THAN HE HAD TO.

He recited the famous courtroom speech an estimated 40 to 50 times, at full intensity every time—even for all of the shots that were of Cruise, Moore, Pollak, Kevin Bacon, and the rest of the courtroom simply reacting to what he was saying. Nicholson said he was “quite spent” by the time he finished.

10. A LOT OF DEFERENCE WAS SHOWN TO NICHOLSON.

The three-time Oscar winner told Reiner he noticed that when he walked into the first rehearsal, the rest of the cast rushed to their seats. "Afterward I told him, 'Rob, it was so strange I felt like the (expletive) Lincoln Memorial,'" Nicholson told the Los Angeles Times. "I blushed actually."

11. KEVIN POLLAK’S MOTHER HIT ON JACK NICHOLSON.

Pollak wrote about the incident in his book, How I Slept My Way to the Middle, and recalled the story during an appearance on Conan.

12. REINER THOUGHT ONE LINE OF DIALOGUE WAS MUCH FUNNIER.

After Galloway tells Kaffee and Weinberg she has the medical reports and Chinese food, she suggests they eat first. After a beat, Weinberg asks, “You got any Kung Pao chicken?” Reiner thought it should have gotten a laugh. He claimed it never did.

13. KIEFER SUTHERLAND WAS A BAD DRIVER.

Multiple takes were needed for a scene in which Kiefer Sutherland's Lt. Kendrick drives the legal team around the base, after he clipped a couple of Marines. He wasn’t used to driving a military Jeep.

14. SORKIN MADE A CAMEO.

Fittingly, he’s in a bar scene, as one lawyer talking to a woman about a case.

15. THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT GALLOWAY.

An unnamed executive gave Sorkin the note: "If Tom Cruise and Demi Moore aren't going to sleep with each other, why is Demi Moore a woman?" His response? "I said the obvious answer: Women have purposes other than to sleep with Tom Cruise." He claimed the incident was his worst experience as a screenwriter.

Demi Moore said she really wanted the part in the first place because Galloway was a “genderless” role. Roger Ebert in his 2.5 star review wrote that a friend of his intuited that Galloway was originally written as a man. In Sorkin’s third draft of the screenplay, dated months before shooting, the movie ends with Kaffee asking Galloway out on a date. She responds by telling him to wear matching socks, like she did before the first day of the trial. That exchange did not make it into the movie.

16. THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT REFUSED TO ENDORSE THE FILM.

This meant that the filmmakers couldn't utilize any military installations during filming. Most of A Few Good Men was shot on a Culver City soundstage.

17. FOUR LAWYERS HAVE CLAIMED KAFFEE WAS BASED ON THEM.

The men all played a role in Deborah Sorkin’s Guantanamo Bay case, where 10 Marines faced assault charges, each with his own lawyer. One advertised on his law firm’s website that his exploits became the basis for Kaffee, and it was great for his career. Through a spokesman, Sorkin told The New York Times that Kaffee wasn’t based on anybody.

Jessup was though, according to Jack Nicholson, who recalled two Marine generals who were on set as consultants. They both knew the actual Jessup and his story.

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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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May 23, 2017
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