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Five '70s & '80s TV Stars' Web Sites

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I was feeling nostalgic recently and decided to Google some of the TV stars I grew up watching. Turns out, many have their own Web sites, and one even has a blog.

1. Dick Van Patten

Boy did I love Van Patten on Eight is Enough, where he played Tom Bradford for 5 seasons. Still alive and well, Dick is now selling pet food at Natural Balance, Inc, with his partner and son, Jimmy Van Patten. I especially like "Dick's Corner" where he posts photos and keeps his audience up-to-date on his activities.

2. Bob Denver

bobdenver.jpgThough Gilligan passed away in 2005, at the time of his death, Bob Denver was busy with something called Little Buddy Radio, an online radio station. From the Web site: "Rocking airwaves around the world, it's Little Buddy Radio Online! The format, spanning all decades of musical memories, makes it possible for music lovers to 'Cruise Through Time" on Little Buddy Radio 24 hours a day. This station is owned and operated by The Denver Foundation, Bob's last legacy. He loved West Virginia and wanted his foundation to help the handicapped and disadvantaged in the area."

3. Erik Estrada

CHips.jpgFormer CHiPs star Erik Estrada is still acting, most recently in a show called Husband for Hire on the Oxygen network. But more interesting is the important work he's doing with the Safe Surfin' Foundation. From the Web site: "Erik has now joined forces with the Safe Surfin' Foundation & Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces around the country to protect our nation's children from the sexual predators who prowl the Internet looking for their next victim. Their Task Forces are located throughout the United States and stand ready to offer assistance to the law enforcement community, and to the citizens they are sworn to protect."

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4. Suzanne Somers

suzanneproducts.jpgThe pinup from the classic Three's Company is probably the most famous of the lot, and as such, you smart readers might already know this, but I sure didn't. She's now got her own line of products, which she sells at SuzanneSomers.com. From the site: "I have carefully selected and tested each item. As you know, I will not put my name on a product unless I truly believe it works. I have beauty products, fitness products, weight-loss products, books, tapes, jewelry and apparel! Now I can offer you all of these items with the ease and convenience of ordering online. We are working every day to bring you more products. Make sure you check in frequently as we will be updating the site constantly."

5. Lydia Cornell

toocloseforcomfot.jpgYes, former Too Close for Comfort star Lydia Cornell (the fetching blonde) is now blogging rather regularly over at her own Web site - topics seem to be about whatever is on her mind that day. Here's her blogger bio: "You're supposed to be married to the person who annoys you the most -- the most spiritual growth happens with your enemies. That's why the Arabs and Israelis live next door to each other, THEY JUST DON'T GET IT YET! I live in a house of men: I have three boys and two dogs including my husband. And they're all going through puberty. The dog gets more affection than I do; I have to compete with Chazzie for back rubs! We also have a bearded dragon who loves classical music. He sways his head to Handel's Water Music and Mozart."lydiablog.jpg

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Shhh...super secret special for blog readers.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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