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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
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
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]