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6 Bizarre Explanations from the set of Roseanne

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This article originally appeared in July of 2008.

Picture 342.pngSomeday when that Big Book of Sitcom Pitfalls to Avoid is published, Roseanne will definitely be the first entry listed under "star megalomania." What started out as a successful comedy about a struggling blue-collar Midwestern family eventually turned into a platform for its namesake's (often) bizarre and radical viewpoints. Of course, even before Roseanne Barr Arnold got in touch with her multiple personalities, there was stress and dissention behind the scenes. There were also a few plot/character inconsistencies and other mysteries regarding the show that we'll try to clear up in this week's column.

1. Why Roseanne boycotted her own show (and wore an armband)

When Roseanne first contracted for her television series with Carsey-Werner Productions, producer Matt Williams spent several days at her home taking notes as he watched her interact with her family. He also studied tapes of her stand-up act, and interviewed his star for hours on end. Much to Roseanne's dismay, however, when the credits rolled on that pilot episode Williams was listed as the "creator" of the show, instead of "developer" (which she thought was a more appropriate title). As time went on, relations between Williams and Roseanne became even more heated and came to a head when she boycotted an episode over one line of dialogue. Of course, the show must go on, and this one did so with its star only appearing in the opening scene and the tag (wearing an armband in protest). That episode, "An Officer and a Gentleman," centered around an absent Roseanne and sister Jackie taking over the Conner household for a few days. It was so well-received that Williams asked Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman if they'd be willing to continue with the show if Roseanne suddenly"¦quit. Both actors refused and later reported the meeting to Ms. Barr, winning her loyalty and support for the rest of the series' run. Matt Williams left the show after the first season and went on to co-create the Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement.

2. Why the original DJ didn't stick around

Picture 332.pngEagle-eyed viewers have often commented on how different DJ looked in the pilot as compared to later episodes. That's because the character of the youngest Conner son was originally played by Sal Barone. Shortly after the pilot was filmed in 1988, the Writers Guild went on strike. When production resumed after the long hiatus, it was discovered that Barone had grown. Not to NBA proportions, but enough to make the producers nervous "“ if he'd gained half an inch of height at age eight, how long would it be before DJ got taller than his older sisters? Additionally, his mother not only agreed that he was probably too old to play DJ, who was six-going-on-seven at the beginning of the series, but she'd also witnessed the backstage fights between her son and Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene. By mutual agreement, Sal Barone left the show and was replaced by Roseanne-lookalike Michael Fishman.

3. We've got to talk about Kevin

Roseanne first met Johnny Galecki when he worked with her on a made-for-TV movie called Backfield in Motion. She was impressed with him enough to cast him as Darlene's love interest (and eventual husband) on her sitcom. When he was first introduced, he was presented as Mark's younger brother Kevin. Of course, in subsequent episodes Darlene's boyfriend was known as "David." Roseanne had wanted to call the character David from the get-go, but when Galecki was first hired, he was still co-starring on a Head of the Class spin-off called Billy, and his character on that show was named David. Once Billy was cancelled, Kevin became David, and the explanation for his name change was revealed on a later episode during a Roseanne rant about Darlene's controlling behavior: "David's not even his real name, Darlene made it up!"

4. Explaining Jackie's Pregnancy

One famous Roseanne story arc centered around Jackie's romance with a much younger hunk named Fisher. Eventually it was revealed that Fisher was abusive and had beat Jackie up (which landed Dan in jail when he sought retribution for his sister-in-law). In a somewhat ironic twist, Laurie Metcalf and Matt Roth (the actor who played Fisher) fell in love while working together, and the pair eventually married. Metcalf's real-life pregnancy was written into the show, albeit a bit late"¦in the "Stash from the Past" episode, Jackie's pregnancy had yet to be announced, but she was very obviously sporting a large baby bump when she hunkered in the bathtub while bemoaning that she didn't have anyone in the world except for her ganja. Just a few episodes later it was revealed that Jackie had been impregnated after a one-night stand with Fred, Dan's co-worker.

5. How lil' Jerry Garcia came about

Picture 312.pngRoseanne the character announced her pregnancy in Season 7 about three months before Roseanne the person actually conceived via IVF, which explains why the TV character carried her baby for just over a year in TV time. To further confuse matters, in the "Maybe Baby" episode, Roseanne and Dan were informed by her obstetrician (after an amniocentesis) that she was carrying a girl. Of course, during a later Halloween episode Roseanne gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Jerry Garcia Conner. The reason for the switch was two-fold; Roseanne Barr Pentland Arnold Thomas wanted her show to reflect her real life (and her real-life baby, Buck, was a boy), plus she wanted to honor the (then) recently deceased Grateful Dead singer, Jerry Garcia.

6. Roseanne's Parents on Using the Force

Picture 321.pngBack in the day when Roseanne was still hot "˜n heavy with Tom Arnold, he confessed to her that he'd been molested as a young boy by his babysitter. That revelation triggered a truckload of repressed memories for Roseanne, who soon appeared in the press and on various talk shows bemoaning her sexual abuse at the hands of her parents from age six months (!) until she moved out of their house at seventeen. When real-life Roseanne discovered retroactively that her parents were evil, she re-wrote her TV parents to be equally abusive and dysfunctional. In the early seasons, Grandpa Al's only faults were his fondness for playing "pull my finger" and re-telling the same old stories. Suddenly, in Season Four, Al was revealed to be an unfeeling child-beater who hung a razor strop on the living room wall as a "reminder" to his daughters to toe the line. Mom Bev went from being a typical clucking-over-her-brood mother hen to a shrill harpy who turned a blind eye when her husband whipped his daughters.

This article was originally published last July. For more 'Roseanne' drama, read Kara's sequel.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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