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6 Unusual TV Deaths

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TV's most unusual deaths only happen to tertiary characters as a rule. Producers don't want viewers to feel guilty for laughing at what should be a somber situation. So the sitcom rule of thumb has always been save the wacky deaths for non-regular cast members. Henry Blake perishing in a plane crash? Tragic. Chuckles the Clown getting shelled to death while dressed as a giant peanut? Comedy gold.

1. Mary Tyler Moore Show — Chuckles Bites the Dust

The reigning heavyweight champion in the category of "weird deaths" is still "Chuckles Bites the Dust." Chuckles the Clown was an oft-mentioned member of the WJM family, though he was only seen onscreen twice in the context of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In this classic episode, anchorman Ted Baxter was asked to be the grand marshal of a circus parade but was forced to turn the offer down by Lou Grant "“ appearing in a parade was conduct unbecoming when it came to the news business. He was replaced by Chuckles the Clown, who dressed as Peter Peanut for the occasion. Sadly, a rogue elephant attacked him and tried to shell him. The circumstances of Chuckles' death led to a slew of jokes in the WJM newsroom, much to Mary's disgust. She was appalled that anyone could laugh when someone had died. But the absurdity of the situation finally struck her during Chuckles' funeral:

2. The Bob Newhart Show — Death by Zucchini

Dr. Bob Hartley had a recurring group of regular patients in his all-encompassing "group" "“ Mr. Peterson the henpecked milquetoast, Mrs. Bakerman the elderly supermarket cashier who always seemed to be knitting, Michelle the slightly overweight Daddy's girl, and Mr. Carlin the name-the-neurosis-and-he-has-it man. Even though Mr. Carlin was known to occasionally lash out with a biting comment at other group members, he was not nearly as nasty as Mr. Gianelli, who had definite anger management issues. In the episode entitled "Death of a Fruitman," Dr. Hartley's group has arranged for a surprise party for their favorite shrink to celebrate four years together. As the patients begin to recite a special poem in tribute to Bob, Carol the receptionist learns that Mr. Gianelli, a produce wholesaler, was crushed to death earlier that day when a truckload of zucchini fell on him.

Mr. Peterson: You helped us all in every way.
Mr. Carlin: You got inside our head.
Michelle: And that is why we'd like to say...
Carol (bursting into the office): Mr. Gianelli's dead!
Mrs. Bakerman: Well, that rhymes.

Noam Pitlik, who played Mr. Gianelli, had decided to leave the show in order to concentrate on producing and directing another sitcom, Barney Miller.

3. Seinfeld — The Invitations

Susan Biddle Ross' on-again, off-again romance with George Costanza finally resulted in the couple getting engaged at the end of season seven. Typically, George got cold feet almost immediately after popping the question and tried his best to be extra-obnoxious in an effort to get Susan to call the whole thing off. Susan probably should've twigged on to her fiancé's reluctance when he chose the cheapest wedding invitations available. No wonder they'd been discontinued "“ the glue on the envelopes was toxic, and Susan fell ill and died after licking one too many. "The Invitations" originally aired in 1996 and was temporarily pulled from the syndication package after the 2001 anthrax attacks in the U.S.

4. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman — Killer Soup

Fernwood, Ohio, the setting for Norman Lear's soap parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was a veritable death trap. Not only was there a serial killer terrorizing the locals, several Fernwood residents met their demise in bizarre ways. Jimmy Joe Jeeter, an eight-year-old evangelist, was electrocuted when a TV set fell into his bathtub. Garth Gimble, a notorious wife-beater portrayed by Martin Mull, accidentally impaled himself on the pointy end of an aluminum Christmas tree in his closet. The odd circumstances of Coach Leroy Fedders' death were conjured up not by the show's writers but by Norman Lear himself. Leroy, miserably sick with the flu and unable to sleep, is sitting at the kitchen table alternately sipping bourbon and popping Seconals. Ever-helpful Mary Hartman drops by with a huge bowl of her homemade chicken soup. While Mary and Leroy's wife go off to chat, the coach grows drowsy, falls face-first into the broth and slowly drowns.

5. Cheers — The Zamboni Accident

When Carla Tortelli married Eddie LeBec, he earned a living by playing goalie for the Boston Bruins. But then his game started going downhill, so he retired and joined a touring show called "The Wonderful World of Ice." Eddie played a penguin in the show and died a noble death when he was run over by a Zamboni while pushing a fellow cast member out of the machine's path. It was later revealed that Eddie probably wouldn't have been killed off had actor Jay Thomas not, during a radio interview, responded to a caller's question about life on the Cheers set by saying: "It's brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman."

6. Will and Grace — Blown Away

Diminutive (4'11") actor Leslie Jordan received an Emmy Award for his portrayal of perpetual-thorn-in-Karen's-side Beverley Leslie on Will and Grace. He was wealthy and traveled in the same social circles as Karen and delighted in publicly taking her down a peg or two. Even though Beverley was ostensibly married, the other characters viewed him as a closeted gay man. And their assumption may well have been true, since in the final episode it was revealed that Karen had encouraged a reluctant Jack to cozy up to Beverley. When the tiny Beverley was blown off of a balcony by a strong gust of wind and fell to his death, Jack was the beneficiary of his estate, which allowed him and Karen to continue their bacchanalian friendship. Interestingly enough, the writers had originally intended for the Beverley Leslie character to be a female portrayed by Joan Collins. But Ms. Collins pulled out of the project after reading a script that involved a catfight between Beverley and Karen, during which Bev's wig would be pulled off.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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