Original image

5 Things You Didn't Know About Eddie Murphy

Original image

Funnyman Eddie Murphy has been on the national stage for nearly 30 years now, so it's understandable that audiences think they know the comedian and actor inside and out. Here are five things you might not know about the man who brought Axel Foley to life:

1. He Knew What He Wanted to Be When He Grew Up

Getty Images

Murphy's high school yearbook photo featured the caption, "Future plans: Comedian," and the young Murphy got down to business pretty quickly. He started working Long Island clubs like the Comic Strip, and his act proved to be so popular that within two years he was a full cast member on Saturday Night Live. It was a pretty quick start for someone who was such a lethargic student that he had to repeat the 10th grade.

Murphy was a natural for SNL, where his impersonations included Buckwheat, Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, and Jerry Lewis. Murphy wasn't as at home off-screen, though, where he had trouble using his paychecks responsibly. As he later put it, "Give any 19-year-old kid $1,000 a week and he'll freak out." In 1982 Murphy told People that he had blown his previous year's earnings on a Trans-Am and gifts for friends.

2. He May Not Have Written Coming to America

Getty Images

John Landis' 1988 film Coming to America cracked up audiences and piled up a worldwide gross of over $288 million. Not only did Murphy star in the film, he also received the sole story credit. Writing and starring in such a smash hit would have been a major coup for even a big star like Murphy, but there was something fishy about the writing credit.

After the film became a huge success, humorist Art Buchwald sued Paramount for $5 million on the grounds that the movie was based on a treatment Buchwald had sold to Paramount in 1983. It turned out that Paramount had indeed optioned a very similar story in 1983 before terminating the project in 1985. Curiously, though, the Murphy-penned story for Coming to America came out three years later in 1988.

Buchwald and agent Alan Bernheim realized that Paramount was trying to bilk them out of some serious cash, and they sued the studio. After a seven-year legal battle, the pair received $825,000 from Paramount. Although Murphy was never personally implicated in the plotline pilfering, it's pretty clear that his writing credit may not have been a true solo project.

3. He Had a Hit Record

Yes, Murphy did the obligatory celebrity record. His 1985 musical debut, How Could It Be, reached #26 on the Billboard 200. Although Aquil Fudge produced most of the album, it did have one Rick James-produced track in "Party All the Time." The song was quite a hit; it even spent three weeks at the second spot on the Billboard Hot 100 behind topper Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me."

When MTV wanted Murphy to host the Video Music Awards that year, Murphy joked that he'd do it only if the channel would air his video. To Murphy's surprise—he didn't even have a video—MTV agreed. Murphy and James quickly threw together a video for the song, and James' hair alone makes it a masterpiece:

4. His Suit from Delirious Met a Funny Fate

Getty Images

One of Murphy's first major triumphs as a solo comedian was the 1983 stand-up special Delirious. Today the special is remembered for two things: its raunchy content and the form-fitting red leather suit that Murphy wore on stage for the taping. In fact, so many fans remembered the trademark suit that they would often ask Murphy what happened to the snappy duds.

In 2007, Murphy revealed the truth: Keenen Ivory Wayans had ruined the suit. According to Murphy, he once dared Wayans to wear the suit out for a night on the town and remain in character. Although the suit was tight on the much smaller Murphy, the 6'3" Wayans took his friend up on the dare. As Murphy later remembered, "He met girls, he had a sausage in his pants, there was dancing." The suit, though, was seriously stretched out after Wayans' adventures.

5. He's a Clean Freak

Getty Images

As a child, Murphy was such a neat freak that his stepfather would joke that the lad needed to get a degree and a good job so other people would have to do his dirty work.

Fame didn't change Murphy's clean habits; if anything, it magnified them. Murphy has said he takes several showers a day and constantly washes his hands. As he explained it in an interview with Playboy, the process of meeting fans is just an inherently unsanitary one. "Because I always figure somebody might have dug in his nose—then he comes to shake my hand, 'Hey, Eddie!' Sometimes you pee and get a little pee on your hands and then it's, 'Hey, Ed!'"

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.


Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.