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Smearing Cream Cheese On Newborns & Other Stories About Famous Multiples

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On January 26, a woman in Bellflower, California, gave birth to octuplets "“ six boys and two girls. This bunch of babies is only the second set of live-born octuplets in the U.S. In celebration of Xeroxed siblings everywhere, this week's TVHolic salutes multiples (and their media-savvy parents).

From NICU to SAG

babies1.jpgSome star-struck parents of prematurely born twins are able to cash in on their early-bird babies by allowing them to appear in TV shows or films as a newborn. Unless it's a reality medical series, most childbirth scenes in television and films are make-believe. Child labor laws vary from state to state, but in California, where the majority of those productions are made, a baby has to be at least 15 days old in order to get a work permit. Of course, most full-term babies have lost that "newborn" look after two weeks "“ their eyes are wide open, they've gained some weight, and their heads have begun to round out. So casting directors seek out "professional preemies" "“ babies born before their scheduled due date (twins preferred, in order to skirt around that 20-minutes-max camera time rule) but who are healthy enough to be brought to the studio. The law counts the actual date of birth, not the expected date, so, for example, a baby born after only seven months' gestation is still going to look tiny and fragile and appropriately "newborn" at the age of fifteen days. The law forbids smearing makeup on newborns, so cream cheese and jam are used to give them that authentic "fresh out of the uterus" look.

Being a "Happy Baby" Pays Off

olsens.jpgIt's hard to believe in retrospect, considering the financial empire the Olsen twins have built, but when Mary-Kate and Ashley were infants, being a stage mother was the last thing on Jarnie Olsen's mind. One of Jarnie's girlfriends had been taking her infant to various casting directors and told her one day, "You've got twins, you really should get an agent, because a lot of shows are hiring twins." On a whim, Jarnie did contact an agent, and was immediately sent to an audition for a proposed sitcom called Full House. Mary-Kate and Ashley were just six months old. They were hired because, of all the babies who applied, they were the only two who hadn't cried or fussed. The show started filming when the girls were nine months old. The series' producers had originally predicted that Jodie Sweetin, who played Stephanie, would be the show's breakout character "“ she was just adorable and precocious enough to become the next Gary Coleman-type child star. However, by the end of the first season, the studio audience automatically emitted an audible "awwww" every time the baby was on stage, and soon viewers began referring to Full House as "The Michelle Show."

The Truth About Carrie Ingalls

The role of Carrie on Little House on the Prairie was credited to twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush, but those weren't the girls' names in real life and "Greenbush" isn't even their true surname. Billy "Green" Bush was a character actor who specialized in playing rough "˜n rugged types (M*A*S*H fans may remember him as the helicopter pilot called Cowboy who tried to kill Henry Blake in mid-air). In 1970, his wife gave birth to twin girls named Rachel Lindsay Rene and Sidney Robin Danae. Rachel and Robin, as they were known, got their first acting job at age 2, when they were cast in the made-for-TV film Sunshine. One year later Michael Landon was casting actors for Little House on the Prairie, and a producer who'd worked on Sunshine recommended the Bush twins. Once they landed the role, their mother decided to protect their privacy by using stage names for the girls. That way, she surmised, the twins could discern TV viewers from relatives or friends "“ if they were spotted in public and addressed as "Lindsay" or "Sidney," it automatically signaled a Little House fan.

Cute But Canceled

katey.jpgThe plot device of identical twins confounding teachers and prospective suitors by switching identities had already been done to death (see The Patty Duke Show), so it's not much of a surprise that Double Trouble tanked in the ratings when NBC added it to their Saturday night line-up in 1984. Real-life identical twins Jean and Liz Sagal starred in this short-lived series as the spunky daughters of a widowed father who owned a dance studio. (Home Improvement's Patricia Richardson co-starred as the father's love interest.) The plots were formulaic and predictable, but the show had enough of a following that a second season was ordered. For season two the twins had relocated to New York City to live with their aunt and pursue their dreams of becoming an actress and a fashion designer, respectively. The new locale did nothing to boost ratings, so the series was canceled in 1985. Yet the fresh-faced Sagal twins, who always looked as if they'd just stepped out of a Seventeen magazine cover shoot, had a solid fan base that convinced the USA Network to air reruns of Double Trouble during the 1990s. The twins' older sister, Katey, fared better in her acting career, playing Peg Bundy on Married"¦with Children for 11 seasons.

Quadrophenia

Allison Mathias is used to total strangers stopping her and asking "Are they for real?" No, they're not referring to her bosom, but to her identical quadruplets: Grace, Anna, Mary Claire and Emily. The Mathias quads were born in 2000 and are unusual because they were not the result of fertility drugs "“ they all started out as the same egg that kept dividing"¦and dividing. When they were but a few months old they earned a cool quarter-million dollars from America's Funniest Home Videos just for laughing in unison. The photogenic foursome have since starred in their own Discovery Health Channel special, made appearances on Oprah> and The Tonight Show and modeled clothes in Target commercials.

Bent Fork Babes

I Love Lucy fans will recognize Roz and Marilyn Borden "“ they played Teensy and Weensy in the episode entitled "Tennessee Bound." The Borden twins already had an impressive list of acting credits by the time Lucille Ball tapped them to play potential suitors for Cousin Ernie, but such was the power of I Love Lucy that 30 years later, when the twins were entertaining on cruise ships, they could always count on someone in the audience requesting "Ricochet Romance."

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We're giving away five $10,000 scholarships. All you have to do is tell us, in 750 words or less, why you should win. But you have to tell us by January 31st. We look forward to reading your entries!

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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