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10 Gorilla Guys

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Hollywood loves gorillas. They are mysterious and scary, yet close enough to human for an actor to play one. Many actors and special effects pros have portrayed gorillas at one time or another in movies such as Gorillas in the Mist or the Planet of the Apes series, but some became particularly known for being "the guy in the gorilla suit." At first, the only requirement for a star gorilla was that one own a gorilla suit. As the competition heated up, these guys had to bring something special to their roles.

1. Charles Gemora

Charles Gemora was the first to specialize in gorilla portrayals. He worked in Hollywood as a set designer and makeup artist before he built a gorilla costume for the 1927 silent film The Gorilla, which was not about an ape, but about a man who wore a gorilla costume. Fascinated by the idea of playing an actual gorilla, Gemora studied the apes in the local zoo to perfect his gorilla act, which he debuted in the 1928 film The Leopard Lady. The 1930 film Ingagi was passed off as being a documentary, but was totally fabricated. Viewers bought it, which confirmed the talents of Gemora, who played the gorilla. Gemora played an ape in 30 films up until 1958, including Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Road to Zanzibar, and White Witch Doctor. Most of his roles were uncredited, which was common at the time in order to preserve the illusion of a real gorilla in the role.

2. Emil Van Horn

Emil Van Horn was a vaudeville actor who appeared in burlesque shows and made the leap to film in the 1940s, when he appeared in nine films, all as a gorilla, beginning with Never Give A Sucker an Even Break with W.C. Fields in 1941. His career as a gorilla came to an end, he said, when his landlady confiscated his possessions in lieu of rent, which included his gorilla costume.

3. Ray Corrigan

Ray "Crash" Corrigan went from a fitness trainer for the stars to a Hollywood stand-in to a western actor in the 1930s. However, he owned a nice gorilla costume, which led to jobs in ape movies beginning with Tarzan and His Mate in 1934 and lasting until he sold the costume in 1948. His most prominent gorilla role was in the 1945 film The White Gorilla, in which Corrigan played a man, a gorilla, and the narrator as well. The film is shown here in its entirety.

4. George Barrows

George Barrows appeared in 96 movies and television shows, not all as a gorilla. But he built his own gorilla costume and found plenty of gorilla work, beginning with a couple of episodes of The Abbot and Costello Show in 1953. His most celebrated gorilla role was in the 1953 movie Robot Monster which became known as one of the worst films of all time and eventually gained cult status. Oh yeah, he was supposed to be an alien in that one, not a gorilla, but that was the only costume he brought with him to the low-budget film.

5. Janos Prohaska

Janos Prohaska immigrated from his native Hugary to work in Hollywood as a stuntman. He was cast as Clyde the ape in the 1964 movie Bikini Beach and began a career portraying different animals afterward, designing his own costumes for the various roles. Prohaska did more TV roles than films, playing a gorilla in Gilligan's Island, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Prohaska is pictured here in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. He often played a bear on TV as well. Prohaska died in a plane crash in 1974.

6. Steve Calvert

Veteran stuntman Steve Calvert bought a gorilla suit from Ray "Crash" Corrigan in 1948. With the suit, he also received lessons in how to act like a gorilla, which he supplemented by studying real apes on his own, and a new star was born -even though Calvert did not receive screen credits for most of the movies he appeared in as a gorilla. He played a very realistic gorilla in a slew of ridiculously unrealistic '50s B-movies, such as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, Bride of a Gorilla, The Road to Bali, and Bride of the Beast. Calvert retired from acting in 1960, and lived to the age of 74.

7. Don McLeod

When American Tourister luggage released a print ad featuring a gorilla abusing their product, they used a real gorilla. The campaign was such a success they took the act to TV in 1980, but could not use a real gorilla for the filming. In stepped Don McLeod. McLeod is an actor, mime, and "living statue." He played gorillas in the movies Trading Places (he was the "real" gorilla), The Man with Two Brains, and Tarzan: The Epic Adventures, as well as other creatures.

8. Garon Michael

In the summer of 2007, an advertisement for Cadbury chocolate took the internet by storm. It had nothing to do with chocolate; what we saw was a gorilla playing drums to Phil Collin's song "In the Air Tonight." The man under the suit was revealed a month or so later. Garon Michael may be an unfamiliar name, but he was no stranger to the suit. Michael also played gorillas in the movies Congo, Instinct, and Planet of the Apes, as well as other furry creatures.

9. Bob Woolf

Hollywood isn't the only place for a man in a gorilla suit. The man behind, er, under the Phoenix Suns gorilla mascot suit is gymnastics coach Bob Woolf. He's the second Suns gorilla, and has worn the costume since 1988, when he was a senior gymnast at Arizona State University. Despite his age (mid-40s), Woolf gives the act his all, jumping on a trampoline, sinking baskets, spinning the ball, and shaking hands with hundreds of people at every performance. He suffers occasional injuries, but as each one makes the papers, the fans know when he's not able to appear at a Suns game. Outside of the court, Woolf appears in costume at schools to entertain kids and promote healthy living.

10. Rick Baker

Rick Baker is a special effects wizard who perfected the eyes of a gorilla costume in order to make believable gorillas for the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, in which he acted as well as worked as associate producer. Baker also portrayed gorillas in the 1976 version of King Kong, the 1988 version of Mighty Joe Young, and the 2001 remake of Planet Of The Apes.

This list was inspired by a post at Metafilter. Read about more gorilla men at the Gorilla Men gallery and the Gorilla Men blog.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”