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7 Things You Might Not Know About The Golden Girls

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Ed. Mental Floss mourns the loss of actress Estelle Getty, who passed away today after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. We all hope that she went to a better place than Shady Pines, and thank her for the many laughs she gave us over the years.

Have you ever threatened someone by simply saying "Shady Pines, Ma"? When you feel as jumpy as a virgin at a prison rodeo, is cheesecake the only remedy that will soothe your nerves? If so, you just might be a Golden Girls fan. The show originally ran on NBC from 1985 to 1992, and 15 years later, it still attracts an average of 16 million viewers weekly on Lifetime, despite being aired four times daily.

1. Where did the idea actually come from?

Former NBC wunderkind Brandon Tartikoff got the idea for the series while visiting an elderly aunt. His aunt's neighbor was also her best friend, and he was amused at how they constantly bickered with one another, but yet they always remained pals.

2. "Jealousy is an ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless."

Estelle Getty was 47 years old before she first appeared on stage, so it was no wonder that she felt intimidated by her veteran co-workers. Since Sophia was a last-minute addition as a regular character, who would've thought that she would ultimately become the most popular Golden Girl? Part of her charm was the stroke that had damaged the part of her brain that censored her speech, which allowed the writers to give her some classic cutting lines:


BLANCHE (trying to entice a suitor): I'm going to take a long, hot steamy bath, with just enough water to barely cover my perky bosoms.


SOPHIA: You're only going to sit in an inch of water?

Estelle seemed to fluff her lines more often than not, and had to resort to using cue cards or script pages taped to the kitchen table. Some of her co-stars felt a bit put out that they had to do so many re-takes because of Estelle, yet she was the cast member that received the most fan mail. As time went on, Estelle had some other odd medical problems that ultimately led to a misdiagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. Sadly, the medications she was given (in error) further exacerbated the problem. It wasn't until the mid-2000s that she was finally diagnosed as suffering from Lewy Body Dementia. Betty White kept in touch with Estelle described her current health situation as "a curtain wafting in and out" "“ she has her good days when she's active and communicative, and other days when she does nothing more than doze in her favorite chair.

3. Looking for Bea Arthur in all the Wrong Places

When casting the show, Lee Grant was first offered the role of Dorothy, but she refused to play a woman old enough to have grandchildren. Even though the original production notes describing Dorothy Zbornak listed her as "a Bea Arthur type," it took some time before the producers got the bright idea of actually offering the part to actress Beatrice Arthur.

A Golden Girls fact: Bea Arthur (Dorothy) was actually a year older than the actress who portrayed her mother on the show.

4. Why wasn't Betty White the sexy one?

This and the answers to more all after the jump...

Rue & BettyWhen Rue McClanahan and Betty White were first hired for the series, it was with the intent of Betty playing man-hungry Blanche, and Rue the naïve Rose. However, both actresses felt that those roles were too similar to characters they'd recently played: Rue's Vivian on Maude and Betty's Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They asked the producers if they could switch roles, and after the first table reading it was agreed that the change was a brilliant idea.

5. What happened to the flamboyant cook?

Charles LevinThe pilot episode featured a flamboyantly gay cook named Coco (played by Charles Levin) who worked for the Girls. By the time the series was picked up, though, his part had been eliminated for two reasons. One was that the writers noted that in many of the proposed future scripts the main interaction between the women occurred in the kitchen while preparing and eating food, and a separate cook would distract from that camaraderie. In addition, the character of Sophia had originally been planned as an occasional guest star, but Estelle Getty had tested so strongly with preview audiences that the producers quickly made Sophia a regular character (and chief chef), which made Coco superfluous.

6. The Gay and Lesbian factor

A 2005 study by Simmons Market Research determined that more gays and lesbians watched The Golden Girls than the general population in any given week. Admittedly, the show touched on homosexuality more than once: Blanche's brother came out as gay in one episode, Dorothy's college friend was a lesbian, and then there was that time that clueless Rose was trying to prove herself on her first day on the job as a production assistant on a local Miami TV talk show"¦

7. "Cheesecake," and the real Golden Girls' appeal

A large part of the Golden Girls' appeal was that they were all women over age 50 who were still actively working, volunteering in the community, and, yes, dating and having sex. They showed the world that menopause didn't automatically equal resigning oneself to knitting afghans and baking cookies. This was brilliantly illustrated when the Girls were preparing to go on a Valentine's Day cruise with some gentlemen friends and Dorothy suggested that they should perhaps bring along some "protection." Of course, Rose got it all wrong

Now is your chance to come out and admit your Golden Girls love. What is your favorite St. Olaf story? How crazy do you go trying to match the internal architecture of their house with the outside shots? And please try and explain to me the varying number and ages of the Girls' children and grandchildren.

Past 'Confessions of a TV-Holic'...

When Sitcoms Go Global
5 Cases of Unwanted Fame
When Sitcom Stars Start Expecting
We Still Love Lucy
6 Backdoor Pilots (and why they belong at the back door)

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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]

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