CLOSE
Original image
Agentneedlez via YouTube

11 Events Correctly Predicted by The Simpsons

Original image
Agentneedlez via YouTube

With the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump looming on January 20, it’s a good time to remember that Fox’s seminal animated sitcom, The Simpsons, has had an impressive track record for predicting future events: In March 2000, the show presented an alternate reality where Trump was in the Oval Office. Take a look at 10 other times Matt Groening’s dysfunctional family peered into their crystal ball—with surprisingly accurate results.

1. THE SIEGFRIED AND ROY TIGER ATTACK

Vegas stage magicians Siegfried and Roy had spent decades performing with their stable of tigers without serious incident. In 1993, The Simpsons used stand-ins Gunter and Ernst—clear parodies of the European duo—to express the writing staff’s doubts that their track record would hold up: One of their tigers attacks them while performing in Mr. Burns's ill-fated Springfield casino. In 2003, Roy Horn was mauled by a tiger while on stage, severing an artery and leaving him with partial paralysis. Horn maintains the tiger bore him no ill will.

2. THE DON MATTINGLY HAIR SCANDAL

In a 1992 episode featuring Mr. Burns trying to sandbag competing softball teams by hiring professional baseball players, New York Yankee Don Mattingly is seen being kicked off the squad by the nuclear power czar over his long hair. (The animated Mattingly had only neat sideburns.) A month after recording his part, the real Mattingly was fined $250 by the real Yankees for refusing to cut his hair.

3. TWO WORDS: HORSE MEAT

In 1994’s “Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song,” Principal Skinner is ousted from his seat after angering the superintendent. Unnoticed by his inspection: the fact that Lunchlady Doris prefers to prepare school lunches using giant tubs of horse parts. In 2013, several food producers in France, Sweden, and the UK were found to have distributed frozen burgers and other products that contained horse meat, an unwelcome additive they did not disclose on package labeling.

4. THEY NAMED THE NOBEL PRIZE WINNER IN ECONOMICS SIX YEARS EARLY

In a fall 2010 episode, Milhouse tries to impress longtime crush Lisa by contributing to a prediction sheet over who would win the Nobel Prize for Economics. His pick: Bengt Holmstrom of MIT. In 2016, Holmstrom was named a joint winner of the prize. (The episode’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Krusty the Clown, has yet to be honored by the committee.)

5. THE FIFA CORRUPTION SCANDAL

In a 2014 episode, Homer is petitioned by the head of an unnamed football (a.k.a. soccer) league to help foster a better image after allegations of corruption emerge; he’s quickly carried away in handcuffs. In 2015, FIFA, the world’s leading governing body of soccer, made headlines for a widespread scandal involving the arrest of seven FIFA executives for abusing their positions for financial gain.

6. THE LEMON TREE THIEF

During a 1995 rivalry with the residents of Shelbyville, Bart and his friends are puzzled by the disappearance of a lemon tree from within Springfield’s town limits. In 2013, a woman in Houston was similarly confused by the disappearance of her own lemon tree, which had been excavated from the ground and carted off. The victim, Kae Bruney, told local reporters that the thief was apparently too stupid to realize it was too late in the season to plant elsewhere.

7. A BABY TRANSLATOR

Homer’s down-and-out half-brother, Herb, reversed his fortunes in a 1992 episode when his handheld baby-babble translating device became a sensation. In 2015, an app called the Infant Cries Translator purported to convert your child’s incoherent cries into something resembling speech. The app’s developers claim they analyzed the mewling of 100 newborns to help identify their particular diaper-related needs.

8. A SNAKE MURDER SPREE

In the 1993 episode “Whacking Day,” Lisa Simpson is dismayed to see the town caught up in the annual tradition of hunting and killing overpopulated snakes. In 2013 and 2016, Florida’s Everglades region sanctioned a real whack-a-reptile contest in an attempt to curb the area’s dangerous abundance of invasive Burmese pythons. Organizers used the less-sensational name “Florida Python Challenge.”

9. COOKING GREASE HEISTS

In 2008, The New York Times declared “fryer grease has become gold” for its application as engine fuel after undergoing conversion and detailed a criminal who had siphoned nearly 2500 gallons of the stuff from a Northern California Burger King and other outlets. In 1999, Homer and Bart attempted a similar heist at the grade school’s cafeteria, before being stopped by Groundskeeper Willie.

10. THE THREE-EYED FISH

Tri-eyed fish Blinky was pulled out of the water by Bart in a 1990 episode, a nod to the polluted environment surrounding Springfield’s nuclear power plant. In 2011, fishermen in Argentina caught a three-eyed specimen in a reservoir being fed water from a nearby nuclear power station.

11. LADY GAGA'S SUPER BOWL LI HALFTIME SHOW.

Gaga's enthusiastic, airborne performance during the historic 2017 Super Bowl LI broadcast--the first game in the series' history to go into overtime--got rave reviews. It turns out she did a dry run in animation five years earlier. In a 2012 episode, Gaga (playing herself) soared over Springfield in a wire harness, much like she did in Austin's NRG Stadium. Of course, since Gaga was aware of what her cartoon counterpart did, maybe it was less a prediction and more inspiration.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES