Original image

5 Things You Didn't Know About Bryan Cranston

Original image

Actor Bryan Cranston finally made his triumphant return as Breaking Bad’s Walter White last week. In honor of the critically acclaimed show’s fourth season, let’s take a look at five things you may not know about its Emmy-winning leading man.

1. He’s Got Experience as a Carny

Cranston earned a two-year degree in police science, but he didn’t go into a law enforcement job after graduation. Instead, he took a decidedly different tack: he and his brother took to the road on their motorcycles. As Cranston told IGN in 2003, the pair traveled the country and camped out in their sleeping bags.

The trip was a great idea until they ran out of money in Texas. The brothers started picking up odd jobs, including gigs operating game booths for carnivals. “We never stayed long enough to work up to, like, a ride operator – because you'd make more money – because we'd want to move on,” Cranston told IGN.

2. He’s (Sort of) a Power Ranger

Fans of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series may remember that the Blue Ranger’s true identity was named Billy Cranston. That surname isn’t just a coincidence. In 2008 Bryan Cranston explained to IGN that early in his career, he picked up extra money dubbing voiceovers for foreign shows and films. One of his steady gigs was at Saban Entertainment, the production company behind MMPR. When production started on the show, the company stuck their longtime freelancer’s last name on the Blue Ranger. As Cranston joked in the same IGN interview, “He’s the fey one. That’s the problem.”

3. He Did a Lot of Commercials

In Cranston’s early days as an actor, he wasn’t just dubbing voices. He was also doing commercials. Lots and lots of them. Including one where he wore a skunk costume and took a shower. See if you can find a glimmer of his Emmy-winning acting chops in any of these:

4. He’s a Creative Gifter...

In the late 90s, Cranston was hard pressed to find an inventive gift for his wife’s birthday. Instead of going the jewelry route, Cranston wrote a screenplay and offered it to her as a gift. His wife, Robin, really enjoyed the screenplay and asked Cranston when they were going to make the movie.

On his personal website, Cranston writes that he hadn’t really considered turning the screenplay into an actual film, but when his wife brought up the idea he agreed with her. Cranston ended up being the writer, director, and producer of 1999’s Last Chance in addition to acting in the film.

5. …But Playing Dr. Tim Whatley Wasn’t a Huge Stretch

Hardcore Seinfeld fans may respect Cranston’s later work, but it’s a little tough to forget his brilliantly smarmy performance as the re-gifting dentist Tim Whatley. According to Cranston, the re-gifting part felt natural. When a fan submitted a question about re-gifting to Cranston’s personal website, the actor replied, “Being of frugal Scotch-Irish descent, I'm proud to say that I re-gift all the time.”

See Also: The Inspiration for Breaking Bad; Breaking Bad‘s Super Intense Gus Was Big Bird’s Camp Counselor

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]