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The Quick 10: 10 T.V. Spinoffs That Didn't Do So Well

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I realize there are a lot of these, so I've kind of arbitrarily picked. Feel free to share your favorites (or least favorites, I suppose) in the comments!

tortellis

1. The Tortellis, spun off from Cheers. Based on Carla's ex-husband Nick and his new wife and family, it was only on the air for three episodes in 1987.

2. Day by Day, spun off from Family Ties. Loosely spun off, anyway. It starred Thora Birch, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Courtney Thorne-Smith, among others. The connection to Family Ties is that the dad in Day by Day apparently was a college roommate of Steven Keaton.

3. Just the Ten of Us, spun off from Growing Pains. I remember Just the Ten of Us and never realized the connection to the Seaver family. The Lubbock family patriarch, Graham, was the gym teacher at Mike and Carol Seaver's high school. He ends up losing his job at that high school, though, and gets another job at an all-boys Catholic school in California. It lasted three seasons, so compared to others on this list, it wasn't such a disaster.

4. Blansky's Beauties, spun off from Happy Days.

In 1977, it seemed like a good idea to make a sitcom based on Howard Cunningham's cousin from Las Vegas. The cousin, Nancy Blansky, was in charge of a bunch of Las Vegas showgirls living together in an apartment like it was a dormitory. Only 13 episodes were made.

5. Grady, spun off from Sanford and Son. Based on Fred Sanford's widower pal Grady (go figure), this one was cancelled after 12 episodes. Great, now I'm going to have the Sanford and Son theme song stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

6. Sons of Thunder proves that even being associated with Chuck Norris doesn't guarantee series gold. Spun off from Walker, Texas Ranger, Sons only lasted six episodes. After Walker's buddy, Reverend Thunder Malloy, dies, his son comes home.

mr t

7. Mr. T and Tina, spun off from Welcome Back, Kotter. No, not the Mr. T. Mr. T. was Taro Takahashi, a Japanese inventor played by Pat Morita. He lives with a free-spirited American girl names Tina and hilarity ensues. At least, it did for five episodes in 1976. Pat Morita was also in Blansky's Beauties, oddly enough. Good thing he eventually found the Karate Kid!

8. Living Dolls, spun off of Who's the Boss. You may know Leah Remini from King of Queens, and I may know her as Stacey Carosi from Saved by the Bell, but before both of those she starred in this brief sitcom. Leah played Charlie Briscoe, one of Samantha Micelli's old friends. She is discovered by a modeling agency and the rest is sitcom history. Except not: it was canceled in 1989 after 12 episodes. Interesting trivia, though "“ Vivica A. Fox and Halle Berry played the same character on the show (kind of like the mulitple Beckys on Roseanne).

9. Checking In, spun off of The Jeffersons, which was spun off of All in the Family. Pretty much every sitcom spun off from All in the Family did wonderfully on the small screen "“ Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons. But not Checking In. In it, the Jeffersons' maid got a new job as the head housekeeper at a swanky hotel. She checked out after four episodes in 1981 (sorry, couldn't help the stupid pun).

fish

10. Fish, spun off of Barney Miller. Abe Vigoda in his own sitcom? How could this fail? Phil Fish was a detective on Barney Miller, but his own series focused more on his life with his wife and five adopted kids (one of which was played by Todd Bridges). It lasted two seasons before fizzling out.

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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
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
June 21, 2017
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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