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5 Charlie's Angels Facts Revealed

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In the late 1970s, producer Aaron Spelling and network exec Fred Silverman created a new genre of programming: "Jiggle TV."Â  The focus was all body, never body copy, and the results were roundly panned by critics. Audiences, however, didn't mind.

1. The Launch of "Jiggle TV"

The series that actually inspired a critic to first utter the phrase "jiggle TV" was a short-lived sitcom called Sugar Time!, which starred Barbi Benton, the one-time main squeeze of Playboy honcho Hugh Hefner. But the show that defined the genre was Charlie's Angels, which was originally pitched to the network as Alley Cats. The Powers-That-Be decided that sexy bra-less female detectives that regularly man-handled perps while wearing designer clothes might be a hit, but only if they were projected in a more positive light. So, instead of calling them "Alley Cats," they called them Angels.

Whatever you think of the shows, the idea to focus more on the women and less on the plot translated into massive commercial success. Not only did Aaron Spelling and Fred Silverman sell plenty of expensive ad time around their mindless eye-candy programming, their shows minted money on posters, dolls and other premiums.

2. Smart Girls Get Stereotyped!

Picture 261.pngKate Jackson was the first Angel hired, and the only one with any substantial credits on her résumé (she'd co-starred on another Spelling production, The Rookies). Much to her dismay, she was cast as the "smart one," and was often portrayed as the ambiguous asexual member of the detective team--meaning she was the flat-chested Angel. Both Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Jaclyn Smith had worked in commercials, and they had that all-important luxurious hair (among other assets), so they were cast as the Angels most likely to appear in bikinis. All three actresses were born and raised in the American South and had to try to un-learn their accents.

3. Charlie Gets Drunk, Loses His Voice

Picture 301.pngAcademy Award-winning actor (and notorious alcoholic) Gig Young was originally hired as the unseen Charlie Townsend, but he showed up for his first day of work so pickled he couldn't recite his lines without slurring them. Frustrated, the producers had no choice but to fire him. Worse still, the team was left without a voice for Charlie late on Friday night, and the pilot was due Monday. Panicking, Aaron Spelling called his old pal John Forsythe at home late that night, and Forsythe obligingly drove to the studio (reportedly still wearing his pajamas), recorded his dialog, and returned home.

4. Farrah gets Posterized

Picture 281.pngThe Pro Arts Company of Ohio was run by two brothers who specialized in selling youth-oriented posters. They hit pay dirt in the early 1970s when their "Fonzie" poster sold a quarter of a million copies. In early 1976, one of Pro Arts' founders heard from a friend that many of his dorm-mates at college were buying women's magazines just for the Wella Balsam shampoo ads that featured a blonde beauty named Farrah Fawcett. Pro Arts tracked down Fawcett and arranged a photo shoot beside the pool at her Bel-Air, California, home. Photographer Bruce McBroom used an Indian blanket that doubled as a seat cover in his Chevy as a backdrop. Farrah chose a red one-piece bathing suit in lieu of a bikini in order to cover a scar on her stomach. In the ultimate example of serendipity, between the time Farrah posed for the poster and it was finally released in late 1976, she had been hired as one of Charlie's Angels and the first few episodes had aired. The free publicity provided by the show sent poster sales into the stratosphere, and made Pro Arts a multi-million dollar company.

5. The Angels use their Wings

Picture 291.pngFarrah was the first Angel to bail. She left after just one season, convinced that she had a future in films. Her first big screen efforts, Somebody Killed Her Husband and Sunburn tanked majorly, and it wasn't until 1984's The Burning Bed that she started gaining respect as a serious actress. Cheryl Ladd was brought on board as Kris Munroe, Jill's (Farrah's) younger sister.

Kate Jackson was offered the female lead opposite Dustin Hoffman in 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer, but the Charlie's Angels producers refused to give her the necessary time off and the role went to Meryl Streep (who won an Oscar for the effort). Jackson was understandably bitter, and left the series at the end of the third season. "Charlie" perfume model Shelley Hack was brought in as a replacement, but only lasted one season.

Charlie's Angels limped along one last season, with Tanya Roberts replacing Shelley Hack, and was finally put out of its misery. And while Cheryl Ladd was a pretty good Farrah substitute, most fans agree that there was no replacing the chemistry of the original trio. In case you weren't an adolescent male glued to his TV on Wednesday nights in the late 1970s and don't understand the show's appeal, take a look at this mini-version of the classic episode entitled "Angels in Chains." It's a time capsule of every element that made critics scoff and viewers leer and drool.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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