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4 Projects Designed to Be Seen in the Future

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Most artists get to celebrate their achievements with some sort of premiere—a film screening, a book launch, a gallery opening. But a few bold writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other artists have elected to create work that they won’t be alive to see, designed to be sealed from public view for up to a hundred years. Here are four artistic works that were made to only be appreciated by future generations.

1. THE FUTURE LIBRARY

In 2014, artist Katie Paterson announced the Future Library, a 100-year-long endeavor that began with the planting of a forest in Norway and will end with the publication of 100 unpublished books on paper made from those 1000 trees. Each year, a different author will contribute an unpublished text (whether a story, novel, poems, or just a single line of text), that will be kept sealed in a room at the New Oslo Public Library until its publication in 2114. Only the titles of the texts will be revealed before that time. So far, the trust holds work by Margaret Atwood, Cloud Atlas writer David Mitchell, and Icelandic novelist Sjón. While you can’t read the books just yet, Paterson is selling 1000 certificates entitling the bearer to one copy of each of the texts once they’re published. The certificates currently cost $1000.

2. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN

The world didn’t get to experience the iconic American writer’s autobiography until long after his death. Late in his life, Twain began dictating his life story to his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, and a stenographer, Josephine Hobby, but he specified that the work shouldn’t be published in its full form until after his death. “I am literally speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book issues from the press,” he says in the book’s preface. “I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter if I knew that what I was writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead, and unaware, and indifferent.” He specified that editions be released in 25-year increments: “Many things that must be left out of the first will be proper for the second; many things that must be left out of both will be proper for the thirds; into the fourth—or at least the fifth—the whole autobiography can go, unexpurgated.” While the first edition of the work came out in 1924, UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project released the first installment of the complete, uncensored version in 2010, a century after his death. Twain may have had a motive beyond wanting to write an embarrassingly honest text. ”I would say, can you spell marketing plan?” historian Robert Hirst joked to NPR when the first uncensored volume came out in 2010. "If you say here's a little bit of the autobiography, but you can't see the whole thing for a hundred years, you're gonna sell a book. Mark Twain knew how to sell a book."

3. ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHAOLIN

In 2014, the hip-hop titans of the Wu-Tang Clan announced that they had made the ultimate limited-edition album: a single record. The rappers specified that the 31 tracks of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, completed over the course of six years, were not to be released to the general public until 2103. Sealed inside a vault in Morocco prior to its sale, all digital traces of the album were erased—should something happen to that one record, the whole thing would be lost. The 88-year copyright bars its owner from releasing it commercially. In 2015, controversial pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli bought the record at an auction for $2 million, making it the most valuable single record ever. Contrary to the musicians’ stated intent, Shkreli leaked portions of the album in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election to celebrate the win of his preferred candidate, Donald Trump.

4. 100 YEARS

In 2015, Louis XIII Cognac hired director Robert Rodriguez and actor John Malkovich to make 100 Years, a film that won’t come out until November 18, 2115. Written by Malkovich, the whole point of the project is to highlight the craftsmanship of a bottle of Louis XIII’s cognac, each of which has been aged for a full century before arriving on shelves. The only thing Louis XIII said about the movie in its press release announcing the project was that in it, Malkovich and his costar, Shuya Chang, “journey through an unknown future achieved by innovative set design and extensive CGI effects.” The spirit company released three teaser videos, but the actual movie has been locked in a custom-made safe that will open automatically in 2115, stored until that date at Louis XIII’s headquarters in Cognac, France. The teasers star the same actors, but don’t include footage that’s in the full film, so not even those will give you a true idea of what’s on that film reel. Even the cast and crew of 100 Years won’t see the final cut, so you really will have to wait until 2115. One descendant of each of the people invited to the film’s preview in 2015 will get a ticket to the real premiere 100 years from now.
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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]

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