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5 Things You Didn't Know About Kelsey Grammer

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TV audiences have long enjoyed Kelsey Grammer for his masterful portrayal of two very different characters: Dr. Frasier Crane and Sideshow Bob. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about the primetime powerhouse.

1. He's Had a Traumatic Personal Life

Although Grammer has been making audiences laugh for over 25 years, his personal life has been anything but comic. When Grammer was 13 years old, his dad was shot and killed by a deranged intruder. When Grammer was 20, his younger sister was raped and murdered by serial killer Freddie Glenn; Kelsey had to identify his sister's body. Further tragedy hit the family when Grammer was 25 years old; his two younger half-brothers died in a scuba diving accident.

2. Shelley Long Didn't Love Him

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When Cheers' writers created Frasier Crane, they didn't expect for the character to have such staying power. Grammer was originally supposed to be on the show for a six-episode arc in which he was mostly a device to help break up the relationship between Sam Malone and Diane Chambers.

Grammer's undeniable talent wrecked these plans, though. Audiences loved both the Frasier character and Grammer's ability to turn mundane lines into knee-slappers with his timing and inflection. The writers scrapped their original plans to write Frasier out of the show in favor of keeping him around, which delighted viewers.

It did not, however, delight costar Shelley Long. Grammer wrote in his 1995 memoir So Far that Long publicly campaigned against the Frasier character. When Long won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a musical or comedy, she blasted the Frasier character for making the show "terrible."

Long apparently managed to tone down her dislike of the good doctor eventually, though. She did a few cameos as Diane Chambers on Frasier.

3. He Didn't Originally Love Cheers

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In the same memoir, Grammer makes a somewhat surprising admission: "I actually saw the pilot episode of Cheers and, I've never admitted this publicly, [but] I didn't like it." Still, when the producers of Cheers were looking for someone to play the role of Frasier Crane, Grammer's old Juilliard classmate and Broadway buddy Mandy Patinkin talked him up to casting directors to help Grammer get the part.

Of course, Grammer's instincts have often been spot-on on other occasions. Before deciding to spin the Frasier Crane character off into Frasier, Grammer heard a much different pitch for his post-Cheers career. There were plans for a show in which Grammer portrayed a media mogul who had been disabled in a motorcycle wreck but managed to still "virtually run the country" in his bedridden state. Something's telling us that concept might not have done quite as well as Frasier.

4. He Didn't Love Eddie the Dog, Either

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Nothing against Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, but Frasier wouldn't have been anywhere as adorable without the Cranes' pet Jack Russell terrier, Eddie. So did Grammer adore his canine co-star, whose real name was Moose? Not so much.

Grammer told the Washington Post, "I love dogs. I don't have any particular feeling about that dog because I just work with him. It takes twice as long to finish a show when the dog's in it. It's a dog. It's not a hardship, you know, it just takes longer. He doesn't always get it the first time and we have to stop and go back."

Grammer went on to say, "Well, it's just so silly. He gets so much attention. I do draw the line when somebody says, 'Oh, he's such a good little actor.' That's it! He's not an actor, he's a dog!"

Maybe Grammer just felt a bit upstaged by the cute pooch. Throughout Frasier's run, producers publicly said that Moose received more fan mail than any of the show's human actors.

5. He's Got Quite the Set of Pipes

You know that Grammer lent his smooth voice to the part of Sideshow Bob, which won him an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 2006. That's not the only place he's used his pipes to his advantage, though. Grammer also voiced Stinky Pete the Prospector in Toy Story 2.

Moreover, he can carry a tune. It's hard to forget Sideshow Bob singing the entire score of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, but you might not have known that Grammer also belted out the "Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs" theme song for Frasier.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. If there's someone you'd like to see profiled, leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]