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Where Are They Now? The Cast of The State

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It's one of the most highly regarded sketch comedy shows in television history, but few people have seen The State, which ran on MTV from 1993 to 1995 and featured talented comedians who would go on to such successes as Reno 911, Stella, and Role Models. Fans of the show have a reason to rejoice (as well as the friends-of-fans, who've been listening to us yammer on about the greatness of The State for years) because the entire series will finally be available on DVD on July 14, 2009. In honor of this momentous event, let's take a look at where the cast has been hiding for all this time.

1. Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant

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Lennon and Garant appeared together as the Inbred Brothers on The State, and have stayed connected at the waist throughout their careers. Together, they created Reno 911, where they appear mustachioed as Lt. Jim Dangle and Deputy Travis Junior. They penned a few flops (Jimmy Fallon's Taxi, The Pacifier, and Herbie Fully Loaded) before striking gold with Night at the Museum and its subsequent sequel. Thomas Lennon has also lent his deadpan face to films like Memento, I Love You Man, and 17 Again.

2. David Wain

David Wain played a lot of smaller roles on The State (for example, The Jew in "The Jew, the Italian, and the Redhead Gay"), but he was more often found behind the camera. That hobby paid off, because he's currently living the life of success with his films Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer, and The Ten. He also appeared alongside Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black in the short-lived sitcom Stella on Comedy Central, and he recently won a Webby Award for his webshow Wainy Days, which is currently in its fourth season on MyDamnChannel.com.

3. Michael Showalter

After his character "Doug" was "outta heeere," Showalter stayed in the limelight as 1/3 of Stella (with David Wain and Michael Ian Black). He also wrote and starred in Wet Hot American Summer. His directorial debut, The Baxter, is quite possibly the best movie you've never seen. He is also the host of the most aptly named web show, The Michael Showalter Showalter, which airs on Collegehumor.com. His stand-up album, Sandwiches & Cats, hit shelves in 2007, and his comedic memoir, tentatively titled Mr. Funny Pants, is due in stores by the winter of 2009. This July, you can see him alongside Michael Ian Black in Michael & Michael Have Issues on Comedy Central. (I recently attended a taping of the show. Set your TiVo.)

4. Kerri Kenney

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The State's only female cast member starred on Comedy Central's Viva Variety, a faux-European variety show along with Thomas Lennon and Michael Ian Black (co-created by Ben Garant). After the show's premature demise, Kenney fronted the all-female indie rock band Cake Like, and tried her hand at voice acting (her father, Larry Kenney, is a veteran voice actor, most famous for his role as Lion-O on ThunderCats), appearing on shows such as Invader Zim, Kim Possible, and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. Nowadays, she stars on Reno 911 as Deputy Trudy Weigel.

5. Ken Marino

"And now, Louie! The guy who comes in and says his catchphrase over and over again!" Soon after The State, Ken Marino sought out a career in acting, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, Angel, and Men Behaving Badly (no, not the good one). He landed a few recurring appearances on shows such as Dawson's Creek, Veronica Mars, and Reaper (along with The State co-star Michael Ian Black), and recently wrote his first screenplay for the film Diggers, starring the "honorary" State cast member Paul Rudd. (And, as several readers have pointed out, he's also starring in Party Down, an original series on Starz.)

6. Michael Ian Black

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The most visible alum of The State, Michael Ian Black has had recurring roles on Viva Variety, Ed, Stella, Reaper, and VH1's I Love The"¦ series. In 2005, he directed his first film, Wedding Daze, starring Jason Biggs, and then wrote the screenplay for Run Fatboy Run. He's got a stand-up album (I Am a Wonderful Man), a book of comedic essays (My Custom Van), and a children's book (Chicken Cheeks). And as I mentioned, his new TV show Michael & Michael Have Issues premieres in July on Comedy Central. That's a lot of work for a guy who got his start by dry humping $240 worth of pudding.

7. Kevin Allison

After The State ended its run, Kevin Allison took a break from performing to focus on writing, and he only returned to the stage a few years ago. He spends most of his time these days as the Artistic Director at the People's Improv Theater in New York City where he teaches and performs. He also had a one-man show called F*** Up, which I regret having missed.

8. Joe Lo Truglio

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Joe Lo Truglio has become one of "those guys" who you see in small parts in a lot of movies but can't quite place. He's appeared in Superbad, The Station Agent, Pineapple Express, Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer, I Love You Man, plus a few more you might've seen. More recently, he grew a mustache and joined his fellow State alumni as the newest cast member on Reno 911. If that wasn't enough, he wrote the brand new web series Hot Sluts, which you can view on Atom.com (and if you're anything like me, you'll click on anything with a name like that).

9. Michael Patrick Jann

Like David Wain, Michael Patrick Jann preferred to sit behind the camera rather than on stage. He was responsible for the brilliant film Drop Dead Gorgeous, as well as the majority of Reno 911's episodes. Since then, he's directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords, Little Britain USA, and the doomed Emily's Reasons Why Not.

10. Todd Holoubek

After The State's cancellation from MTV (but before their subsequent CBS special), Todd Holoubek left the troupe and took a slightly different route by teaching web design and designing furniture. Thankfully for the die-hard fans, he rejoined the cast for their reunions in The Ten, Reno 911: Miami, and their recent live show in Los Angeles.

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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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