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4 Memorable TV Crossovers

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The branches of the TV-land family tree can get very tangled. We've previously discussed backdoor pilots; another common offspring is the spin-off, where certain characters on an established series are deemed popular enough to support their own show. And then there is the crossover, where characters from one show appear on another show. Sometimes the crossover intersects with the spin-off (as will be seen tonight when Dr. Addison Montgomery returns to Seattle Grace Hospital in the conclusion of a multi-part Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice crossover.) Other times the crossover is something of an "in-joke" (see Murphy Brown below), while often it is just the whim of a network exec who uses a successful series to promote one that is struggling. Allow me to present a few examples:

1. Bewitched in Bedrock

For a sleepy prehistoric suburb, Bedrock had more than its share of celebrity visitors. Stoney Curtis, Ann-Margrock and Stoney Carmichael were just a few of the A-listers who appeared on the Stone Age sitcom (with their voices provided by their real-life counterparts). In Season Six, however, the Flintstones welcomed new next-door neighbors Samantha and Darrin Stephens, in an episode that featured Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York voicing the animated versions of their Bewitched characters. The gimmick wasn't so out of the blue; Hanna-Barbera had done the opening animated credits for Bewitched, which was just beginning its second season, while The Flintstones was an established hit.

2. Norm Peterson's Former Client

Since St. Elsewhere was set in Boston, producers thought it might make for some nice symmetry if Doctors Westphall, Auschlander and Craig stopped by the Cheers bar after a particularly stressful day. The only problem was that Cheers was on hiatus at the time that this episode was conceived, but Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt graciously agreed to give up some vacation time in order to participate. As it happened, Carla had mentioned two years earlier that she'd had one of her babies at St. Eligius and that it had been a horrific experience, so that gave the writers a reason to have Ms. Tortelli vent her spleen at Dr. Craig. It was also revealed in this episode that Norm Peterson had once been Dr. Auschlander's accountant and had gotten him into big-time trouble with the IRS.

3. Murphy Brown's Competent Secretary

A running gag on Murphy Brown was Murphy's inability to retain a competent assistant, and as a result a different secretary appeared in each episode. Then the fates turned in Murphy's favor, and she walked into the office to find none other than Carol Kester-Bondurant (Marcia Wallace) of The Bob Newhart Show behind the desk. Carol of course was an ace at the job, and would have stayed on the FYI staff had Dr. Bob Hartley not appeared on the scene in the final moments of the episode. After a frenetic bidding battle between employers, Carol finally went home to Newhart-land, where she truly belonged.

4. Paul Buchman's Tenant

When Mad About You debuted, it was given the sweet time slot following the very popular Seinfeld. It was eventually revealed in one episode that Paul Buchman was still paying rent on his "bachelor" apartment (in case his marriage didn't work out), which upset wife Jamie. The punch line to the episode was that Seinfeld's Kramer was Paul's tenant. Crossovers tend to work best when they're sprung on the audience as a surprise, so this particular episode fell a bit flat, since it was hyped in print ads and TV commercials ad nauseum before it aired, so by the time Michael Richards poked his head out of that apartment door the thrill was long gone.

Which crossovers do you remember/love/hate? How about when Daphne (of Frasier fame) didn't understand a Caroline in the City cartoon? There's also the episode of Wings that featured Frasier and Lilith Crane visiting Nantucket to promote a book and host a seminar (this earned Kelsey Grammer an Emmy nomination). In an episode of Seinfeld, struggling actor Kramer lands the part of Murphy Brown's secretary, Stephen Snell. And how many of you remember when George and Weezie Jefferson visited the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]