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6 Secrets from the Brady Vault

Here's the story of how a show started as a typical formulaic sitcom, but grew into a syndicated monster. From the time Greg Brady got high to the reason Cindy Brady started balding, here's a quick rundown of all things Brady you probably didn't know.

1. In Real Life, Jan Gave Marcia the Complex

Maureen McCormick played Marcia, the eldest Brady daughter, and the object of lust of many a teenaged boy during the tenure of The Brady Bunch. What the public didn't know, however, was that "Mo" always felt inferior to Eve Plumb, who played middle sister Jan. Eve had longer, blonder, more luxurious hair. Eve developed curves before Maureen did (and took pleasure in flaunting her blossoming physique by going braless under her tight-fitting tops in later seasons). The very slender Mo also felt that she had a bit of a tummy "pooch" and during the time the entire cast was en route to Hawaii for an exciting "on location" three-part episode, all she could think about was her horror at having to appear on camera in a bikini. Watch those Hawaii episodes when they rerun and you'll see that Maureen always manages to hold a beach towel or robe in front of her lower torso in any bathing suit scenes.

2. Barbershop of Horrors: Why Cindy Started Balding

bb3.pngWith the parents in place, the team of brown-haired boys and blonde girls made the final cut, with one exception. For the role of Bobby Brady, the youngest boy, producers favored Mike Lookinland, who had strawberry-blond hair. He was hired only after his parents agreed to let Miss Clairol do her thing on their son's locks. Savvy viewers will note how Bobby's hair color varied between dark brown and jet black before the make-up folks found just the right shade of hair dye for him. Susan Olsen had a different problem; she was a natural blonde, but producers felt the youngest Brady wasn't blonde enough. They ordered eight-year-old Olsen's hair to be bleached regularly to give her that adorable towhead look. When her hair began falling out in clumps during the second season, a tearful Susan complained to Sherwood Schwartz, who immediately ordered the staff to leave "Cindy's" hair alone.

3. Gene Hackman Almost Played the Lead

bb2.pngThe producers started testing kids to fill the roles of the six Bradley children. Since the parents hadn't yet been cast, they had to have two full sets of kids at the ready "“ one set with dark-haired boys and blonde girls, and another set with the opposite coloring. The first choice to play Ma Bradley was character actress Joyce Bulifant (who would later go on to play Murray's wife on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). However, once comedic actress Ann B. Davis was cast as Alice, the producers decided that a more "serious" actress was needed to play the mother. Florence Henderson ultimately got the job, but was forced to wear a wig during the first season because her own hair had been cropped short when she co-starred in an off-Broadway revival of South Pacific. For the role of Mike Brady (the family's surname had changed by this time), producers were debating between a then-unknown Gene Hackman and Robert Reed. They finally chose Reed because he had marquee value from his co-starring role on the popular series The Defenders.

4. Greg Brady Liked to Get High

bb5.pngIn one first season episode, Greg Brady succumbed to peer pressure and smoked a cigarette. The on-camera coughs and chokes of a novice smoker were a true acting stretch for Barry "Greg" Williams, who'd been inhaling a pack of Marlboros per day since the age of twelve. Williams' "smoking" experience was not limited to tobacco. Like many teens in the 1970s, Barry was known to occasionally share a doobie among friends. He'd been sparking up one afternoon (on one of his days off ) when he received a call from the studio that certain scenes of the "Law and Disorder" episode needed to be re-shot. Barry dutifully reported to the set, but it became obvious to all present that something was not quite right with Greg Brady. Aside from his stumbling over nothing in the driveway, there was the glazed look in his eyes and the stilted delivery of his few lines regarding Dad's purchase of a boat that tipped the producers off and caused furious re-writes to reduce Greg's part in this episode.

5. The Brady Bunch Might Never Have Made it Without Lucille Ball

Back in 1965, producer Sherwood Schwartz was browsing through the Los Angeles Times when a sidebar caught his eye; it was a "filler piece" statistic box that stated 31% percent of all marriages at that time included a child from a previous relationship. He grabbed a notepad and started scribbling ideas "“- the types of sibling rivalries that could emerge in "blended" families, the problem of a parent showing his "natural" children favoritism, etc. From his notes he developed a concept for a TV series he called Yours and Mine. He shopped his script to the three major networks and was turned down each time. Three years later, United Artists released a film called Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, which told the story of a widow with eight children who married a father of ten. The film did well at the box office, and suddenly ABC was interested in Schwartz's script (then called The Bradley Brood).

6. Robert Reed's Hard Life

bb6.pngRobert Reed's homosexuality had been an unspoken secret on the Brady Bunch set. In the early days of rehearsals, Florence Henderson commented to the producers about Bob's reticence in kissing scenes. With many years of theater on her resume, she had an intuition when it came to fellow actors and boldly asked Sherwood Schwartz at one point "Is there something wrong with me, or is Bob Reed gay?" According to close friends, Robert Reed led a tortured life and was a self-hating homosexual "“ he thought of his sexual preference as an "illness" or "disorder" and tried to suppress it. Despite his antagonism towards Sherwood Schwartz, Reed doted on his TV "family" and even treated the entire clan (at his own expense) to a trip aboard the QEII to England, so that they could see Shakespeare's birthplace. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1992 and was also HIV positive. He'd remained in close contact with Florence Henderson over the years and asked her (from his hospital bed) to break the news of his illness to the "kids." After hearing the news, each of the Brady siblings phoned Bob to chat with him one last time, and they all traveled to Skokie, Illinois, to attend his funeral.

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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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