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Where Are They Now? The Original Six American Gladiators

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Have you ever noticed that the best originals always seem to come in groups of six? Hockey teams. Nike Air Force Ones. United States frigates. But the title of best original six-pack "“ quite literally "“ belongs to the muscle-bound men and women who made up the first cast of American Gladiators. (I'll award a six-second head start in the Eliminator to anyone who can name all six off the top of his or her head right now.)

If you somehow came up with Malibu, Lace, Gemini, Zap, Nitro, and Sunny, please stop reading this and immediately Facebook friend me, as you are my new hero(es).

There are all sorts of interesting where-are-they-now stories about former Gladiators and contenders from the show. Kristi Kropp-Wagner, the former contender wearing yellow in this video, is now the faculty advisor for the co-ed badminton team at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. On a sadder note, season four women's champion Cheryl Wilson was murdered by her husband in 1997.

As for the Original Six Gladiators, here's what we know:

1. Deron McBee (Malibu)

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Emperor Commodus probably would've given the laid-back surfer dude with the flowing blonde locks two thumbs down for his pretty boy appearance, and most film critics did just that in their reviews of 1997's Mortal Combat: Annihilation, in which McBee starred as Motaro. McBee, who trained at the Billy Blanks World Karate Studio, has appeared in more than 30 other movies, including such blockbusters as The Killing Zone and Enter the Blood Ring. Curb Your Enthusiasm fans might remember McBee's guest appearance during the second season as former pro wrestler Thor Olson, who Larry becomes convinced slashed his tires after the two men got into an argument. McBee's late wife, Drzan, an aspiring professional wrestler, reportedly died after complications from surgery in 2003.

2. Marisa Pare (Lace)

After appearing in 59 episodes from 1989-1993, the ironically Canadian-born Pare, or Lace #1 to American Gladiator fans, made one appearance on the TV show Renegade with fellow former Gladiator Michael Horton. According to imdb.com, she resurfaced in 1997 on an episode of Clueless. Pare, whose given name is Roebuck, married actor Michael Pare in 1986. In 1987, she appeared as a fashion show coordinator in The Women's Club, a movie in which her then-husband starred, before the two were divorced in 1988. Pare was one of two Gladiators to pose nude in Playboy.

3. Michael Horton (Gemini)

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Creatively named for his split personality "“ calm one minute, violent the next "“ Horton served as team captain of the American Gladiators during his 80-episode stint on the show, which spanned four years. His greatest claim to fame since hanging up his spandex "“ besides his aforementioned appearance in Renegade, of course "“ was his role as the security guard in Night at the Roxbury. What is love? Pounding the living daylights out of a contestant with a foam jousting stick.

4. Raye Hollitt (Zap)

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The Wilkes-Barre native played a reporter in 1997's Letters From a Killer, starring Patrick Swayze. She has scored several other small roles in movies and television shows, which, coupled with her 1996 appearance in Playboy, make Hollitt one of the more ubiquitous American Gladiators. She runs an online florist business from her personal Web site, rayehollitt.com, which is borderline NSFW and states: "Sex, drugs, rock and roll....Isn't that part of life. Well, it was for me!" At one point, Hollitt hosted a women's strength competition called Radiant Pro at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The overall winner received $3,500.

5. Dan Clark (Nitro)

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The former San Jose State standout defensive lineman announced the plans to revive American Gladiators during a chat on ESPN.com in 2007. For more than five years, Clark has been a mentor in the Young Story Tellers Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing literacy among inner city youths. Born in Toma, Japan, Clark was a contestant on Ty Murray's Celebrity Bullriding Challenge on CMT, riding for 8 seconds with a strained groin during one episode. He also appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger and his voice is featured in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Want to know more about Clark's life? Visit his MySpace page here.

6. Cheryl Barldinger (Sunny)

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Barldinger is like the Chicago Blackhawks of this original six in that she kind of disappeared after suffering an injury during her first and only season. A post on an American Gladiators message board indicated that she recently worked as a spokeswoman for Up-time Nutrition.

Did anyone catch tonight's relaunch of the American Gladiators franchise? What'd you think?

Scott Allen is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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