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The Quick 10: 10 Famous Stage Mothers

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With Mother's Day coming up in a few days, I thought we'd take some time to recognize a very particular breed of mom: the stage mom. Not all stage moms are bad, of course "“ some are just looking out for the welfare and well-being of their children. But others"¦ not so much. Here are 10 Hollywood moms who were (or are) quite entrenched in their children's careers, either for the better or the worse.

1. Jaid Barrymore. An aspiring actress herself, Jaid had Drew auditioning for commercials before she was even a year old. She landed her first gig at 11 months (a dog food commercial) and made her film debut in 1980 at the age of five. By the time she should have been in junior high, Jaid was out partying and drinking with her tween-age daughter. She later appeared in Playboy just eight months after her daughter.
2. Gertrude Temple had Shirley primed for Hollywood from the womb. It's said that she desperately wanted her daughter to be in the industry and did everything from the pretty standard (having her listen to music in the womb) to the kind of weird (making her memorize the words to popular songs). And don't think those famous ringlets happened by accident "“ every morning, Gertrude carefully styled Shirley's hair to look like that of a young Mary Pickford, setting it in exactly 56 curls in a lengthy process that took hours.

3. Sara Taylor. Before Elizabeth's violet eyes took the world by storm, her mother, Sara Viola Warmbrodt Taylor, was attempting to do the same. After having children, Sara never performed again and focused instead on Elizabeth's career. "I knew there would come a time when she would want to follow in my footsteps," Sara once said. "I could still hear the applause of that wonderful night when The Fool opened in London at the Apollo Theater and I had stood alone in the middle of the stage and taken a dozen curtain calls while a reputedly staid British audience called, "˜Bravo, bravo, bravo!'"

4. Minnie Marx was probably one of the original "momagers" and went by the name Minnie Palmer so others wouldn't know her boys' agent was actually one of their parents. She sounds like she was a pretty good one, though "“ her family thought very highly of her. Groucho once wrote, "She never got over the habit of working with [her sons], and they never got over the habit of going to her with their troubles, their problems and their joys."

5. Teri Shields was a notorious stage mom back when Brooke was just coming on to the scene. A September, 1977 New York magazine cover story basically said Teri had sold Brooke into Hollywood slavery, forcing her to do intimate scenes at a young age and spouting off in interviews about Brooke's breasts and her first period. And you thought your mother was embarrassing!

6. Ruby Dandridge was an aspiring entertainer as well. She devised an act for her two daughters, Dorothy and Vivian, calling them "The Wonder Children." They toured the U.S. instead of attending school.

7. Carol Connors starred in a couple of dozen porns from 1971 until 1981, which is when she became pregnant with her daughter Thora Birch. She was in the notorious Deep Throat and also appeared on The Gong Show as the "hostess" who introduced host Chuck Barris at the beginning of every show. Carol and her husband, who was also in the adult entertainment business, had Thora audition for commercials from a young age. She appeared in a couple of commercials for Vlasic pickles and Quaker Oats before getting her first steady job at the age of six.

8. Rose Hovick was Gypsy Rose Lee's mom and practically invented the term "stage mom." In fact, her antics became quite well known when the musical Gypsy came out and exposed her as the type of woman who would practically slit throats to get her daughters agead in the business.

9. Dina Lohan. I probably don't need to say much about Dina, really. You probably hear enough about her as it is. But I'm not sure a list of stage moms would be complete without her
10. Ethel Gumm was of the Ruby Dandridge school of thought "“ if she could get her daughters to be in a successful stage act, it was almost the same as being famous herself. Ethel, a vaudevillian, created a show that involved the whole family, including the Gumm Sisters. One of these sisters was introduced to the act at the age of two and a half; she would later become better known as Judy Garland.

What other stage moms would you add to the list?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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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]

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