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6 Things You Didn't Know About Leave It To Beaver!

Picture 7.pngGee, Ms. Kovalchik, that's a lovely TV-Holic column you have this week"¦ Whenever someone needs to describe the idyllic American life in one capsulated phrase, they usually utter Leave It to Beaver. On one hand, those black-and-white reruns do make the Cleaver family seem as if they existed in some pristine alternate universe, where everyone dressed for dinner and Mom always had cookies and milk at the ready. But on the other, many of the situations were very real and still resonate today. Younger brothers still feel left out when their older siblings discover girls, there are stupid dares that will intimidate even the most level-headed kid in class into attempting dangerous stunts, and parents are still often clueless when it comes to what a kid has to do to not be labeled a "creep."

1. The Reason June Cleaver Always Wore Heels and Pearls

Picture 51.pngOne common criticism of Leave It to Beaver is that June, the Cleaver matriarch, always vacuumed and washed dishes while wearing high heels. However, actress Barbara Billingsley actually wore flats during the first season of the show; she started wearing heels at the suggestion of the producers once her TV "sons" experienced growth spurts. They wanted June to tower above her boys if at all possible. And that omnipresent strand of pearls was strictly Billingsley's idea "“ she used them to conceal a surgical scar on her neck.

2. Beaver Gets Turned Down by the Marines for being Too American

Picture 61.pngJerry Mathers got into show business at the tender age of two and a half. His mother had taken him shopping at the Broadway Shopping Mall in downtown Los Angeles and was approached by a store employee. The store was shooting photos for its Christmas catalog up on the 10th floor, and the employee thought young Jerry would be a perfect model for children's clothing. By the time he auditioned for the role of Beaver Cleaver, his resumé was filled with TV and film credits. Contrary to urban legend, Jerry Mathers did not die in Vietnam; however, he was turned down by the Marines when he tried to enlist. A very prominent former NFL star had just been killed in action, and Mathers was told that the Marine Corps could not afford any further negative publicity should a popular former child star suffer the same fate. If he insisted upon enlisting, he would be kept Stateside. Mathers joined the Air National Guard instead.

3. Eddie Haskell Grows up to be a Cop

Describe someone today as an "Eddie Haskell" and most people will immediately know what you mean. Actor Ken Osmond played the oily and unctuous Eddie to such perfection that 40 years later his character is a cultural reference. Osmond (no relation to the singing family), like Mathers, was the subject of a couple of urban legends. Just to clarify "“ he didn't grow up to be either shock-rocker Alice Cooper or porn star John Holmes. He grew up to be an L.A. police officer who was shot three times in the line of duty and was saved by his body armor. Enjoy this bit of typical Eddie behavior as he smoothly transitions from sucking up to the parents to getting Wally and Beav in a heap o' trouble:

4. Why Mr. Cleaver Resented the Show

Hugh Beaumont was a deeply religious man and obtained his Master of Theology degree from USC in 1946. He only turned to acting after he was assigned as pastor to a community that couldn't afford to pay him. To supplement his income, he first did ads and serials on radio. When he made the transition to television, he was usually cast as the "bad guy" until Leave It to Beaver came along. Beaumont was always professional on the set and friendly to the kids, but he harbored a deep sadness that he blamed on the show. He lived with his family part of the year in Minnesota, and he usually drove his crew to L.A. when it was time to work. However, because filming on Beaver began rather abruptly after the pilot sold, Beaumont had to fly to California, leaving his son Hunter to drive Beaumont's wife and her mother out west. Hunter lost control of the car along the way, and Beaumont's mother-in-law was killed in the crash.

5. A Pool of Talent

Picture 33.pngUnlike his TV brother, Tony Dow had no previous acting experience. A Junior Olympics diving champion, he went to his first audition at the request of the lifeguard who worked at the pool where he worked out. (The lifeguard was up for a role and needed an athletic youth who could dive off of cliffs to play his son.) That particular pilot didn't sell, but the producers remembered Dow when they were casting the role of Beaver's older brother, a high school jock who lettered in almost every sport.

6. Lumpy Pulls a Wilt Chamberlain

Picture 11.pngJust like his character Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, actor Frank Bank was the only one of the LITB kids to own his own car. But that was about the only thing Bank had in common with the lumbering Daddy's boy he portrayed. Bank was quick to point out in his autobiography that he has bedded over 1,000 women. That's right "“ Lumpy Dumpy the Big Smelly Ape had something of a Wilt Chamberlain vibe. Or so he says.

What's your favorite Beaver episode? The one where he falls into the giant soup bowl? Or maybe the one where Wally insists on being allowed to buy his own suit and returns home with a multi-pocketed yellow plaid number? It's hard for me to choose, but I tend to lean toward "Wally's Haircomb," where Wally adopts the latest hairstyle, the Jellyroll. The producers let the audience know just how subversive and counter-cultural this style was by playing wild hep-cat music every time the greasy "˜do was shown onscreen. Do take time after watching this clip to share your LITB memories.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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