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Mom's the word: When sitcom stars start expecting

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What producers do when the rabbit dies"¦

The rest of us can complain about maternity leave not being long enough, and unfeeling male bosses not understanding the need for additional restroom breaks. That's just par for the course when an average working American woman gets pregnant. But what happens when you're a major player on a popular television series?

I Love Lucy

The ArnazesSometimes, the bundle of joy is written into the script. That's how Lucille Ball's unexpected pregnancy was handled in 1952. Lucy and Desi Arnaz had been married for 11 years before little Lucie (the couple's first child) arrived, so they were as shocked as the rest of the show's staff when Lucille found out she was expecting once again the following year. Thanks to the perseverance of Desi, the network and sponsors agreed to let I Love Lucy's storyline feature a pregnant Lucy Ricardo, even though they weren't allowed to use the word "pregnant" in the scripts. Ratings went through the roof on January 19, 1953, when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on the same day that Lucille Ball had Desi Junior (by Cesarean section).

More after the jump...

Frasier

Jane Leeves & David Hyde PierceFrasier fans remained on tenterhooks for seven seasons watching Niles Crane fawn over the oblivious Daphne Moon, his father's health care worker. When the couple finally proclaimed their love for one another, the writers were faced with a problem: actress Jane Leeves was pregnant. It was too soon in the relationship for Daphne to be with child, so the writers concocted a storyline that made her a compulsive eater who eventually had to check into a spa to lose the excess 60 lbs. she'd gained.

Leeves' second pregnancy was written into the script. Even though the plan was originally for her to have a girl, in the series finale, Daphne gave birth to a boy that was named David in tribute to series co-creator David Angell, who'd been one of the passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001.

The Cosby Show

Phylicia RashadOn The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby had decided that his TV family was complete with five children. In fact, he declared in the pilot episode that the Huxtables had four children because "they didn't want five." So when Phylicia Rashad was infanticipating in real life during much of the third season, Clair was seen only sitting at a table or desk, standing in back of the kitchen island, or under the covers in bed with a bad back. Eventually, the writers sent her on several business trips, which not only concealed her expanding physique, but also gave Cosby extended on-camera time in which to ham it up.

Friends

Lisa KudrowA main character like Clair Huxtable can disappear for a few episodes when you've got a Bill Cosby to fill in the gap, but the producers of Friends had no such luxury when Lisa Kudrow became pregnant. Each episode of that show relied on the entire ensemble, and there was no good way to explain a long absence by Phoebe. Instead, Kudrow's pregnancy was written into the script, albeit with a typically loopy Phoebe-esque twist "“ she acted as a surrogate for her brother's wife.

Married...with Children

Katey SagalLisa Kudrow was actually not in favor of her pregnancy being incorporated into the Friends script. She openly wondered in interviews after the fact what the writers would have done had something "gone wrong." Obviously she was thinking of Married"¦with Children's Katey Sagal, whose real-life pregnancy was incorporated into her show's script. Tragically, Sagal's pregnancy resulted in a premature stillbirth. Despite her willingness to continue Peg Bundy's baby storyline, the show's producers decided to end the situation with a Bobby Ewing-style "it-was-all-a-dream" resolution instead.

The Nanny

Lauren LaneThe writers of The Nanny decided to poke fun at the whole "hide the pregnancy" genre when Lauren Lane was expecting. In one episode, an obviously enceinte C.C. Babcock complained to Maxwell Sheffield: "I was watching this rerun of Seinfeld and Elaine must have been, I don't know, 12 months pregnant, and they didn't even acknowledge it. They just kept hiding her behind these huge props!" She then picked up a large house plant to conceal her own expanding midsection. When her condition became impossible to hide, C.C. was sent off to "The Place" to recover from an emotional breakdown.

>>Floss readers, how do you think unscripted pregnancies should be handled on television? Do you prefer tummy-hiding, or should the baby be incorporated into the show? And can you think of any famous on-air pregnancies I missed? Drop us a line in the comments.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.

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