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Idiot Control Now: MST3K Movie Musical Moments

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Best Brains Inc., the eponymous minds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, had a fabulous creative team that came up with many hilarious song parodies and musical tributes over the course of the series' 10 year run. But that's not our topic today. Instead, we're going behind the scenes to find out about some fan-favorite musical interludes that were inexplicably included in the deliciously bad films featured on MST3K – the whos, the whys, and the where-are-they-nows.

The Band That Played "California Lady"

Track of the Moon Beast was a 1976 horror movie filmed on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As with most films of this ilk, the musical interlude (an outdoor concert scene) had little to do with the overall plot; it was added both as padding and an attempt to attract music fans that might otherwise not pay to see a sci-fi film. The Fish-Lipped Guy Robin Gibb look-alike crooning "California Lady" is Albuquerque native Frank Larrabee, who also wrote the song.

Larrabee was and remains a bit of a renaissance man. A gifted athlete, he was all-conference in baseball and basketball and attended the University of Albuquerque on a basketball scholarship. He was also a talented singer/songwriter and a familiar face on the local music scene, which is why the Moon Beast producers called on him for the all-important concert footage. Larrabee eventually focused on business (he owns a construction company in New Mexico) and his love of horses (he and his wife raise Appaloosas and he has previously served as president of the Appaloosa Horse club). Nevertheless, even after he "officially" retired from the music business, he still dusted off his guitar now and then... From 1976 to 1990 he hosted a "concert in the park" on Father's Day in Corrales, New Mexico, to raise money for the local library. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you can visit the Frank Larrabee Wing of the Corrales Public Library (it's just past the periodicals room).

Yipe Stripes!

There's a serial killer on the loose in 1964's Teen-Age Strangler, but that doesn't mean the local kids are too morose to enjoy a quick dance break at Marty's Malt Shop. Luckily, Mary and Jack, the Huntington Astronauts, are in the house to work the crown into a frenzy of fruggin' via their latest hit single "Yipe Stripes."

"Mary" was actually Kathy Haddad (credited as "Stacey Smith"), a Huntington, West Virginia, native who was home on summer break from New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts when she answered the casting call. Auditions were held at the Frederick Hotel and Haddad was so excited when she landed the role that she didn't really consider the context – an actual film credit is an impressive resume bullet point for a student majoring in theater. Haddad now works as a substitute teacher in Cabell County and occasionally gets recognized by B-movie fans thanks to Teenage Strangler being available for check-out at almost every West Virginia public library. Screenwriter Clark Davis composed "Yipe Stripes" in one evening and later stated that he'd been inspired by a chewing gum commercial. Take a look at said commercial and then decide whether "inspired" is too mild of a term:

"It Stinks!"

The Pod People was originally conceived as a straight-up alien invasion horror film. But while Los Nuevos Extraterrestres (the Spanish production's original title) was still being filmed, Steven Spielberg released a little film called E.T. that became a blockbuster hit. The money people behind Pod People demanded several script changes at the last minute ("add a cute kid and make the alien more adorable!") in order to make the movie more E.T.-ish, which partially accounts for the disjointed feel of this film. But it doesn't explain away the excruciating recording studio scene, inserted apparently to establish the fact that these young hip folks vacationing together were not only friends but also members of a totally awesome singing group. The song "Rugen los Motores" ("The Engines Roar," incorrectly listed on IMDb as "Hear the Engines Roll") was co-written by Librado Pastor and Santiago Pineda, who had worked together in a regionally successful Spanish pop group called Los Roberts in the late 1960s.

That's Pineda singing the phonetic English lyrics on the track that actor Ian Sera dispassionately lip-synchs to in the film. In 2003, rappers Danger Mouse and Jemini resurrected an old Los Roberts song called "Lovin' for the Night" and sampled it on their track "The Only One."

Zombie Stomp

Producer Del Tenney had a brainstorm in 1962 – beach movies and horror movies were all the rage, so combining the two would surely be boffo at the box office. Unlike most bikini-oriented films of that era, Tenney set The Horror of Party Beach not in sunny California, but on the east coast – Stamford, Connecticut, to be exact. While searching for local talent to provide some "surf" music for his soundtrack, he discovered the Del-Aires, a Patterson, New Jersey, quartet that had a solid following in the area and played regular gigs at the famous Peppermint Lounge. The Del-Aires never recorded an actual soundtrack album for Party Beach but they did release a few songs from the film as singles on Coral Records and did a mini-tour of drive-in theaters to promote both the movie and their records.

On the night of August 25, 1963, the Del-Aires were just wrapping up a very raucous set at the Angel Lounge in Lodi, New Jersey, when two police officers arrived at the club to investigate a noise complaint. Unfortunately, two career criminals – Thomas Trantino and Frank Falco – happened to be at the club celebrating a successful heist they'd pulled earlier that day. Sgt. Peter Voto entered the bar first while his partner waited in the patrol car; he was immediately ambushed by the pair and ordered to remove his clothes. A few minutes later, Voto's partner Gary Tedesco – an unarmed probationary officer – came inside to see why Voto hadn't returned; he was likewise taken hostage and ordered to strip. Trantino and Falco then shot the helpless kneeling police officers in the head, killing them both. Falco was shot by police a few days later while resisting arrest and Trantino gave himself up. The Del-Aires disbanded shortly afterward due to "creative differences."

Watch Out for Snakes!

Arch Hall Sr. always dreamed of being in show business and sort of patterned himself after Ozzie Nelson – he was determined to not only direct and produce but to also star in pictures along with the rest of his family. Unfortunately, Arch Sr. never made it to prime time TV like Ozzie, and his son Arch Jr. never attained the teen idol status of Ricky Nelson. Arch Sr. formed his own movie studio, Fairway Productions, and churned out a string of B-movies that usually appeared second on the bill of drive-in double features. Arch Jr. really was a talented singer and musician (he'd formed a band in high school with pal Alan O'Day, who went on to hit number one on his own in 1977 with "Undercover Angel"), but his father's films weren't necessarily the best showcase for his abilities. Case in point: In Eegah!, young Arch takes a break from hunting for a monster in the desert and bursts into song (complete with backing vocals) to serenade his girlfriend, Roxy. But the tune he sings is about a girl named Valerie. Even worse, earlier in the film he croons a poolside ballad to another former love of his life named Vickie. Roxy must have been one tolerant girlfriend.

Despite the best efforts of dad, Arch Jr.'s film/music career never really took off, so Junior eventually concentrated on his other passion, flying. He earned his pilot's license in 1965 and hired on as a co-pilot with the Flying Tigers courier service in 1967. He was piloting DC-10s for Federal Express when he retired in 2003.

Daddy-O

Film noir fans will probably be shocked to find out that the hepcat rock and roller clad in high-waisted pants and extra-snug polo shirts who starred in Daddy-O was famous offscreen for playing the un-coolest of musical instruments – the accordion. Dick Contino won first place in 1946 on the Youth Opportunity Talent Show by playing "Lady of Spain" on the squeezebox. His sleek black pompadour and onstage gyrations soon garnered a large fan following (and a record contract); by 1950 he was sporting a diamond pinky ring and earning $4,000 per week at the tender age of 20. His musical career came to a screeching halt in 1951 when Uncle Sam came a-callin' and he failed to report for military service. He spent six months in federal prison as a result and was inducted into the Army immediately upon his release. Nevertheless, the "draft dodger" label hung heavily over his head and big band fans weren't very forgiving. Shunned by concert promoters, Contino turned to Hollywood, where the "bad boy" label was actually a plus. Even though he'd forever refer to Daddy-O as a "Z-movie," the film did help to rejuvenate his career. It kept his name on lobby posters and in gossip columns and gave him a swooning fan-girl following that stuck with him when he eventually returned to the Lawrence Welk circuit.

Previous Installments of TV-Holic...

11 Famous Actors and the Big TV Roles They Turned Down
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6 Secrets From the Brady Vault
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6 Unusual TV Deaths
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Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone!
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6 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets From Cheers
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5 Minor TV Characters Who Hijacked the Show

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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