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5 Mysteries Surrounding The Cosby Show

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When The Cosby Show premiered in 1984, many media critics tripped over themselves trying to point out that no "real" African-American family lived like the Huxtables. Cultural relevance and political correctness aside, syndicated reruns have taught us that The Cosby Show endures because it delivered laughs along with warm fuzzies. The Huxtables provided a loving family atmosphere (along with an impressively appointed house) where audiences could escape for 30 minutes each week.

1. Why Rudy was a girl

rudy-huxtable.jpgThe original concept for The Cosby Show called for four Huxtable children—two girls and two boys. The youngest child, Rudy, was supposed to be a son. But despite auditioning hundreds of young male actors, the producers still felt that they hadn't found "the one." When they opened up the auditions to females, Keshia Knight Pulliam immediately won them over. The littlest Huxtable child thus became a girl, and Keshia subsequently became the youngest actress ever to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy, at the tender age of six.

2. How the Huxtable family suddenly grew

sondra-huxtable.jpgDuring the pilot episode, Clair asked Cliff, "Why did we have four children?" And he responded, "Because we didn't want five." Originally, Denise was the oldest, followed by Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. But once the series was poised to become a hit, Bill Cosby decided to add an additional older child—one who was away at college and was thus a result of successful parenting. Enter Princeton student Sondra, the eldest Huxtable child. Sabrina LeBeauf won the role despite stiff competition from Whitney Houston and future Miss America Suzette Charles. By the way, Sabrina LeBeauf was only 10 years younger than her TV mom, Phylicia Rashad.

3. The mystery of the disappearing characters

cockroach.jpgDuring the 1986-1987 season of The Cosby Show, Theo's close friend and co-conspirator was Walter "Cockroach" Bradley. Carl Anthony Payne played the role in 12 episodes of the series, and might have featured in more had he not had a falling-out with Bill Cosby. Payne had decided to grow his hair out, despite Dr. Cosby's preference for a clean-cut style among the male actors on his show. When Payne failed to comply, the Cockroach character was summarily squashed. As for Rudy's silent chubby friend Peter, who always responded to trouble by running away, his only crime was Time. He was growing up, and while the writers could come up with story lines to accommodate Keshia Knight Pulliam's maturation, it was easier to simply eliminate a one-note character like Peter once he outgrew his part.

4. How the Cos handled his Wild Child

image009.jpgWith her typical teenage carefree attitude and her cutting-edge fashion sense, Denise Huxtable became an audience favorite early in the series. Lisa Bonet, who portrayed the character, received the most fan mail and was the media darling during the first season of the show, particularly amongst male teenagers. Bonet exhibited unprofessional behavior on the set (arriving late every day, being argumentative, etc.), so Cosby chose to pass the buck by "spinning off" her character into her own series, A Different World. Always a cheerleader when it came to touting higher education, Cosby was eager to spotlight the daily lives of students at a predominantly black university. Bonet thumbed her nose at this opportunity, however, and disrupted things further by announcing her pregnancy and engagement to musician Lenny Kravitz. Ever-tolerant Cosby temporarily brought Denise back to the Huxtable fold (until oversized shirts failed to conceal her impending motherhood) and then sent her character off to Africa to work as a photographer's assistant.

5. How Bill Cosby's life subtly intertwined with Cliff Huxtable's

image011.pngClair Huxtable's maiden name was Hanks, which is also the maiden name of Cosby's real-life wife Camille. On The Cosby Show, Cliff's mother's name is Anna, just like Bill's real mom. His TV dad was called Russell in honor of Cosby's younger brother"“you may remember him using the name on his comedy albums (To My Brother Russell, Whom I Slept With) and also in the animated Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. And Cosby's TV son Theo Huxtable was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia, as was Bill's late son, Ennis Cosby, who was murdered in 1997.

Learn juicy tidbits about Cheers, Frasier, The Golden Girls and more in Kara's TV-Holic Archive.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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