The Late Movies: Kids Incorporated

The children's TV show Kids Incorporated ran from 1984 through 1993 and featured a group of kids who performed in their own rock group, Kids Incorporated, at a former musical club called The Palace. While you may not have heard of the show before, you should be familiar with some of its regular cast members, dancers, and guest stars. The clips below feature some of the bigger names who guest starred on Kids Incorporated or who spent some of their younger days in its cast.

1. Stacy Ferguson

Stacy, or "Fergie" as she's now known, was the youngest cast member, at about 8 years old, when the show began, and she remained with the show for more seasons than anyone else, not leaving until 1990. Within 2 years, she had joined the group Wild Orchid (then New Rhythm Generation or NRG), which she left in 2001. She joined The Black-Eyed Peas for their 2003 album, and the rest is history.

Stacy covers Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" from the season 2 episode "A Pain in the Neck."

2. Jennifer Love Hewitt

One of Jennifer Love Hewitt's earliest roles was as Robin in season 7 of Kids Incorporated. She went on to star in movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Can't Hardly Wait, and Heartbreakers and television shows, including Party of Five, The Ghost Whisperer, and The Client List. She's also released 4 studio albums, including one the year after her Kids Incorporated run, which made her a star in Japan.

Jennifer sings lead on this Kids Incorporated original, "Where There's a Will," which opened the season 7 episode "Mummy Dearest."

3. Mario Lopez

Kids Incorporated was Mario Lopez's first recorded role; he was one of the many dancers, but he was also a singer in the first season and served as the drummer from 1984 through 1986. In one notable episode, his character taught "The Kid" (played by Rahsaan Patterson) to wrestle. Post-Kids Inc., Mario starred in the many iterations of Saved by the Bell. He's hosted many shows and events, including Extra and America's Best Dance Crew, appeared on Broadway in A Chorus Line, competed in the season 3 of Dancing with the Stars, and published 3 books.

Mario is on drums in this cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" from the season 1 episode "Robot Bop."

4. Eric Balfour

One of his very first roles, Eric Balfour played Eric on Kids Incorporated for season 7, in 1991. In 1997, he was one of the first victims in the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He starred in the short-lived Dick Wolf TV drama Conviction, the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the TV show Life on Mars. He's most well-known for his roles as Milo Pressman on 24 and as Duke Crocker on the current Syfy show Haven.

Eric, with Kenny Ford, covers the Nelson song "Love and Affection" in the season 7 episode "Flip Out."

5. David Hasselhoff

In the first season of Kids Incorporated, David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff guest-starred in an episode called "School's for Fools." At that point, he was starring in Knight Rider and had already spent eight years on the cast of The Young and the Restless. Since his appearance on Kids Inc., he's starred in Baywatch, served as a judge on America's Got Talent, and competed in Dancing with the Stars. He released his first album in 1985 and has put out 17 more albums since then.

David and the Kids cover The Contours' "Do You Love Me?" in the 15th episode of season 1.

6. Florence Henderson

By the time Florence Henderson appeared as the "Granny" of Jared (played by Jared Delgin) in season 8 of Kids Incorporated in 1992, she was already well-known for her role as Mrs. Brady in The Brady Bunch and its many offshoots. She has continued to guest-star in a variety of shows since her appearance on Kids Incorporated.

Florence's "Granny" and her grandson Jared sing a cover of Kathy Treccoli's "Everything Changes" with the rest of the Kids. (Watch closely -- Florence also appears to play saxophone.)

7. Brittany Murphy

When Brittany Murphy had a guest role in season 8 of Kids Inc., she had already starred in the TV show Drexell's Class and appeared in an episode of Murphy's Law. Three years later, she was nominated for a Young Artists Award for her role in Clueless. Post-Clueless, she starred in Drop Dead Gorgeous, Girl, Interrupted, 8 Mile, and Uptown Girls, among others, voiced Luanne Platter and more characters for the TV show King of the Hill, and appeared in a variety of other TV shows.

Brittany and Nicole cover the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" in the season 8 episode "Lay Off."

8. Scott Wolf

Scott Wolf appeared in one episode of Kids Incorporated, in which he played identical twins named Billy and Bobby. (Billy was the new friend of Eric, played by Eric Balfour, listed above.) He had already appeared in 4 episodes of Saved by the Bell at that point, and he went on to star in Party of Five (with Kids Inc alum Jennifer Love Hewitt), Everwood, The Nine, and V.

Watch for the guy in the varsity jacket. (The quality isn't great, but this is the only song from Scott's episode, "Double Trouble" in season 7, on YouTube.)

9. Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is best known as Chunk from The Goonies ("Truffle shuffle!"), but in 1984, the year before The Goonies came out, he was the guest star of the fifth episode, "The Joker," of Kids Incorporated's first season. Jeff played a practical joker who wanted to be friends with the Kids. Since The Goonies, he had small roles on a few other TV shows and made-for-TV movies, but his main focus has been on his education and his career. Today, he's an entertainment lawyer and was named one of "Hollywood's Top 35 Executives 35 and Under" by The Hollywood Reporter.

This is the full season 1 episode guest-starring Jeff as "the joker."

10. Billy Blanks

The inventor of Tae Bo, Billy Blanks has practiced martial arts since the age of 11. In the '80s, he broke into acting with several (not very successful) action-adventure films. In the final episode of season 6 of Kids Inc., Billy teaches karate to Robin (Jennifer Love Hewitt's character), who's being bullied. Since 1989, Billy has grown his Tae Bo empire and continued to appear in action movies.

In "Karate Kids," episode 15 of season 6, Billy teaches Robin karate. (The episode isn't available on YouTube as one continuous video.)

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.