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12 Pop Culture Cavemen (and Cavewomen)

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The caveman movie National Lampoon's Homo Erectus will hit theaters in September. The sitcom based on the GEICO Caveman ads will premiere in October. But cavemen are nothing new to pop culture. A man (or woman) who resembles us but does not understand or fit in with the confusing modern world is a wonderful device for both comedy and adventure. These 12 cavemen and cavewomen are not ranked; who am I to rank cavemen? They are in chronological order.

1932 Alley Oop

The comic strip Alley Oop has been in news papers for 75 years, outliving two of his three illustrators. Oop is your everyday dinosaur-riding caveman who lives in the kingdom of Moo when he isn't time-traveling to different eras of history. He was also the subject of a #1 pop hit by The Argyles.

1958 B.C.
B.C. is a comic strip by Johnny Hart, who died this past April. The strip will continue under the production of Hart's daughter and grandson. B.C. was also the caveman character, playing straight man to all the silliness going on around him. The strip took on a religious theme in 1977, which led to some criticism and editorial rejection from some newspapers.

1960 Fred Flintstone
The Flintstones was the first prime-time animated TV series for adults. Original episodes aired from 1960-1966, and for many years after in reruns. Fred and his wife Wilma, and their neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble were loosely based on the earlier sitcom The Honeymooners. Although the setting was a prehistoric age, the Flintstones had modern conveniences such as record players and telephones, which were powered by animals, or in the case of the automobile, "Fred's two feet."

1966 Loana

Loana is undoubtably the only character you remember from the 1966 movie One Million Years B.C. All it took was Raquel Welch in a leather bikini to make it a hit.

1977 Captain Caveman
Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, originally a segment of Scooby's All-Star Laugh-A-Lympics, and its own series briefly in 1980. Afterwards, he appeared in The Flintstones Comedy Show. Captain Caveman was thawed from the ice by a group of teenagers and became a crime-fighting superhero with his caveman strength, ability to fly, and a magic club.

1980 Ayla
Ayla is the protagonist of the Earth Children series of books by Jean Aul, beginning with Clan of the Cave Bear. Ayla is a Cro Magnon who is orphaned at age five and taken in by a clan of Neanderthals. Ayla uses her inborn intelligence and psychic powers to domesticate animals, perform surgery, and invent fire, sewing, and the bra. The 1986 movie Clan of the Cave Bear starring Daryl Hannah was critically panned and a box office flop.

1981 Atouk
Ringo Starr played Atouk in the 1981 film Caveman. Not as big or fierce as the other cavemen, Atouk becomes an outcast from his tribe, and joins with other exiled cavemen to form a new tribe of misfits. However, the misfits use their brains to create fire and defeat dinosaurs, proving that brains trump brawn in the grand scheme of history. The plot foreshadows the later movie Revenge of the Nerds.

1982 Thag Simmons

Although Thag himself doesn't appear in this 1982 Far Side panel by Gary Larsen, his legend lives on. Scientists have used the word "thagomizer" since at least 1993 to describe a dinosaur's tail spikes. It's now used in reference books and museum exhibits.

1991 Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

The late great Phil Hartman played Cirroc, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer as a recurring character on Saturday Night Live. He spoke quite eloquently, but always fell back on his caveman background to relate to the jury as a common man.

1992 Link
Brendan Frasier played Link (the "missing link") in the 1992 comedy Encino Man. Two California teenagers (Sean Astin and Pauly Shore) find a frozen caveman in their backyard and decide to take him to school, where he becomes quite popular. The reviews were awful, but it was nice to see Brendan Frasier in a loincloth.

2004 The GEICO Cavemen
GEICO Auto Insurance began running an advertising series with the line "so easy, a caveman could do it." Cavemen who heard that line were offended and complained. Several other ads featuring the cavemen were produced, plus the internet sites Caveman's Crib and Up With Cavemen. The TV series (entitled Cavemen) is scheduled to run on Tuesday nights beginning in October.

2007 Ishbo

Ishbo is the hero of National Lampoon's Homo Erectus, which comes out in September. Played by Adam Rifkin, who also wrote and directed the film, Ishbo is smarter than the other cavemen, and carries a torch for a girl who prefers her men big, dumb, and strong.

Which caveman do you fancy the most?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]