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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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