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4 More things to know about Jack Webb (Part Deux in a series)

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After the color reincarnation of Dragnet had exhausted its run, TV genius Jack Webb decided there were plenty of stories to be mined from the day-to-day exploits of the average cop on patrol duty. Thus was the genesis for Adam-12, which premiered in 1968 and ran for seven seasons. (ed. note: if you haven't checked out Kara's terrific post on Jack Webb and Dragnet, be sure to read it here)

1. How Adam-12 got the name

The title of the show was inspired by the official LAPD designation for a two-man patrol car, "Adam." Each car was also assigned a numeral that described its patrol area. When it came time to name his new show, Webb simply recited a litany of consecutive numbers ("Adam 1, Adam 2, Adam 3" etc.) until he decided that "Adam-12" had just the right sound. The voice heard intoning that call sign on the radio in every episode was Shaaron Claridge, who was an actual police dispatcher at LAPD's Van Nuys division.

2. Keepin' it Real

Webb made sure that the equipment and procedures on Adam-12 were as true to life as possible. Reed and Malloy's patrol car switched from a Plymouth Belvedere to a Plymouth Satellite and finally to an AMC Matador as did the LAPD fleet.

Arrest procedures were changed to keep step with actual police protocol "“ from having suspects put their hands behind their backs, to putting them behind their heads, to having them lay face down, hands spread out to their sides. And in the earliest episodes, Malloy and Reed wore long sleeved-shirts no matter how hot and humid the weather. This, too, was based in reality: LAPD's Chief Parker was a stickler for professionalism (he despised tattoos) and believed that fully-covering long sleeves and neckties were the only proper uniform for a police officer.

3. Six Degrees of Nepotism

Picture 6.png There was no dearth of nepotism in the land of Jack Webb. Kent McCord played high school football with Ricky Nelson, which helped him earn a recurring role on Rick's TV series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. When McCord later landed the role of Officer Jim Reed on Adam-12, the favor was repaid when Nelson's wife, Kristin Harmon, was cast as Reed's wife.

Hollingsworth Morse directed many episodes of Dragnet and Adam-12, and he convinced Jack Webb to audition his friend, Gary Crosby. Bing's son impressed Webb enough that he took on the recurring role of resident obnoxious smart-aleck Officer Ed Wells on Adam-12. And Jack Webb also graciously gave his ex-wife Julie London, along with her new husband Bobby Troup, starring roles on Emergency!

4. If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

The Adam-12 formula had proven so successful that Jack Webb didn't tinker with it when casting Emergency! Kevin Tighe was hired to play Roy DeSoto, the veteran firefighter/paramedic who took rookie Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth) under his wing at the beginning of the series. The dark-haired, handsome Mantooth bore a striking resemblance to Kent McCord's Jim Reed, but Tighe's naturally auburn hair had to be bleached strawberry blond in the early seasons so that his look was more reminiscent of Milner's Pete Malloy. By the final season, Tighe was allowed to let his locks return to their natural darker color.

Randy Mantooth had a brief run as a teenage pin-up until his attorneys sent cease-and-desist orders to 16 and Tiger Beat magazines; it seems Mantooth thought teen idol-dom would derail his career as a serious actor.

Gary Crosby wrote a tell-all "Daddy Dearest"-type book in 1983 detailing the physical and emotional abuse he and his brothers were subjected to by Der Bingle. It was titled Going My Own Way.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]