CLOSE
Original image

5 Ways Doctor Who Made a Difference

Original image

1. The Theme Song

Many TV shows have had memorable theme songs, but few were as innovative as the eerie Doctor Who theme. Composed by Ron Grainer (who also wrote the themes for such classic 1960s shows as Steptoe and Son and The Prisoner), it was arranged and mixed by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The Workshop pioneered electronic music in Britain, and Derbyshire's arrangement (using electronic oscillators, tape loops and reverse tape effects) was unlike anything ever heard before, with no conventional instruments. Recording the theme was a lengthy process, taking several weeks, but it was worth it. After a concert in 1971, the Queen herself was introduced to Desmond Briscoe, head of the Workshop. "The Radiophonic Workshop?" said Her Majesty. "Ah yes"¦ Doctor Who!" Have a listen:

2. Dalekmania

In the mid-1960s, the Doctor was in danger of being beaten by his greatest enemies"¦ in popularity, at least. The Daleks are robot-like mutants from the planet Skaro, who invade planets with piercing, electronic cries of "Exterminate!" British kids found them terrifying "“ and just like in roller-coasters, they loved being terrified. Soon, Dalekmania was all the rage in Britain. Kids could buy Dalek toys, comics and singles like "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek" by a group called the Go-Go's (no, not those Go-Go's). Kids would even line up for hours to see the Daleks make charity appearances. Not bad for a race of evil monsters. The Daleks became part of British culture, influencing many new sci-fi monsters and characters (perhaps even good guys like R2-D2), and even entering the language"¦

3. Such language!

Only a few TV series have added words to the English language. Doctor Who added at least two, possibly three. "Dalek" was the first one added to the Oxford English Dictionary. "Not only had I created a monster, I had created a word," wrote their creator, Terry Nation. "What writer could ask for more?"

Later, the Doctor's unique traveling machine, the Tardis, also found its way into the OED. Though it's a handy machine (able to travel through time and space), it entered the language for one of its even more impressive properties: as it occupies two different dimensions, it's bigger on the inside than the outside (which is just as well, because it's outwardly disguised as a 1920s-style British police box, leaving little room to move). Hence, any room or cabinet that somehow seems more spacious on the inside is a "Tardis" (which, for the record, stands for "Time And Relative Dimensions In Space").

But perhaps the series biggest contribution to the English language was the prefix "cyber," to describe anything computerized. Though the term "cybernetic" was used in 1948, it was probably some ongoing Doctor Who villains, the Cybermen, who turned "cyber" into a prefix. Countless IT and internet geeks, not to mention science fiction authors, have followed their lead.

4. Violence and Gore for Boys and Girls

JonPertwee.jpgDoctor Who was created as a kids' show, but its concepts and stories were smart enough to win a following among adults. As a result, the show became slightly more "grown-up," which didn't impress people like outspoken morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who thought it was too scary and violent for kids. In 1972, it was on the BBC's "black list" of the 10 most violent shows. "Our program isn't violent, it's all just fantasy," objected actor Jon Pertwee (left), who played the Doctor at the time. "It wouldn't upset an 80-year-old maiden aunt and my young son loves it."


The complaints of scariness and violence continued throughout the 1980s, but the series became a yardstick of what was acceptable on children's television. It changed attitudes and caused much debate. It might have been fantasy, but it inspired British kids' TV to become tougher and grittier.

5. Changing the Genre

Doctor Who was a major influence on British science fiction television, which is very different from the American sci-fi. For starters, British producers didn't have the budget for great special effects or sets, so instead they focused on imaginative scripts, finding creative ways to do cheap effects and building alien sets that made the plastic planets on the original Star Trek look realistic. In fact, were it not for the success of Doctor Who, British science fiction might be very rare indeed. Without Doctor Who, we would never have had such cult sci-fi shows as Blake's Seven, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf and Life on Mars. Even many of Britain's non-sci-fi comedy and drama series were Who-influenced.

The new series of Doctor Who has a higher budget and production standards, but the focus is still on scripts and acting. It helps that so many of Britain's best writers and actors grew up on Doctor Who, and are eager to do it. The first head writer of the new series, noted playwright Russell T Davies, was a long-time Doctor Who fan. So are current star David Tennant, and most of the writers and directors. For a cheap kids' show, it sure influenced a lot of Britain's finest creative people.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at markjuddery.com.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
technology
Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
Original image
iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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