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5 Things You Didn't Know About John Candy

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The world hasn't been quite as funny since we lost John Candy in 1994. Let's remember the star of great comedies like Uncle Buck and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles by taking a look at five things you may not have known about Candy.

1. He Was Almost a Ghostbuster

By 1983, Candy's national celebrity had grown to the point that he could command $350,000 per movie. Director Ivan Reitman, who had worked with Candy on Stripes, approached the comedian about appearing in his next film, Ghostbusters. Candy's old pals Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had supposedly written the Louis Tully role in the script specifically for him, but Candy balked at taking a pay cut from his normal $350,000 fee. The role ended up going to Rick Moranis instead.


Candy may have refused to appear in the film, but he did find a small footnote in Ghostbusters lore. He made an appearance in the video for Ray Parker Jr.'s chart-topping theme song for the film. See if you can spot him. (Fair warning: It's not exactly Where's Waldo? difficult.)

2. He Was an Argonaut

In 1991, then-owner of the Los Angeles Kings Bruce McNall purchased the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League with some financial help from star Kings center Wayne Gretzky. According to Martin Knelman's biography Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy, Candy called his buddy McNall to congratulate him on the purchase.

McNall didn't just accept Candy's good wishes, though. Candy later reminisced that McNall said, "I want you to be involved. Get out your checkbook." Just like that, Candy became part owner of a CFL franchise. The new ownership group then put up the funds to lure Heisman Trophy winner runner-up Raghib "Rocket" Ismail away from the NFL and onto the Argos' roster.

3. He Indirectly Helped Build Joe Montana's Legend

Owning a CFL team isn't Candy's only oddball spot in football history. He also played a minor but significant role in Joe Montana's career.

Montana cemented his "Joe Cool" persona at the tail end of the Super Bowl XXIII when his San Francisco 49ers were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 16-13 with a little over three minutes left to play. The Niners' offense was more than a little tense before it took the field to attempt to salvage the game, but Montana figured out a way to calm his guys down. He strolled over to right tackle Harrison Barton and said, "There, in the stands, standing near the exit ramp... isn't that John Candy?"

Indeed it was. According to Montana's teammates, the QB's bit of calm stargazing at a tight moment really helped loosen them up. They marched down the field and scored the game-winning touchdown when Montana rifled a throw to receiver John Taylor. Candy probably deserved - but never got - at least a Super Bowl ring for his help.

4. He Was Part of a Stacked Comedy Draft Class


Every comedy fan knows that Chicago's venerable The Second City has long been one of the greatest hotbeds of laugh-worthy talent. The class of comedians that Candy joined the troupe with in 1972 has to have been among the best ever, though. Candy, then a Kleenex salesman for Kimberly Clark, auditioned on the very same day as Dan Aykroyd in 1973 and immediately made the jump to the Chicago mainstage where he joined Bill Murray. Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and Gilda Radner also joined up with the Second City around the same time.

5. He Wasn't Big on Interviews

Candy may have been a garrulous funnyman on stage, but he was extremely media-shy when the cameras weren't on. According to a 1986 Los Angeles Times profile, Candy long refused all interview requests, even when he was starring in big-budget feature films that needed promoting.

Eventually he relented and explained his shyness with the press. He told the LA Times, "I think the real reason I hate to do interviews is because I think I'm boring. I just always thought there were more important things to talk about than myself. Also I get nervous. When I did a few interviews several years ago, there were a few things said about me that I was uncomfortable with. I felt I'd put my foot in my mouth. So it's an awkward situation."

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

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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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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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