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11 Rock Star Cameos in TV Shows

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From Davy Jones on The Brady Bunch to (Cow)Boy George on The A-Team, here are some of the more memorable musician TV cameos.

1. Davy Jones on The Brady Bunch

Marcia's all-out campaign to get the Monkees singer to perform at her prom yields a kiss on the cheek, a date, and a specially dedicated song. "Thank you girl, for making the morning brighter..."

2. Phil Collins on Miami Vice

In an episode called "Phil the Shill," the Genesis singer appears as the slippery host of a game show called The Rat Race. (He even sings the theme.) Crockett and Tubbs take an interest when they learn he has ties to a cocaine dealer. How '80s can you get?

3. Tom Waits on Fernwood 2 Night

When Wait's van breaks down in the fictional Ohio town, he ends up as a guest on the low-budget talk show. After befuddling the audience and host Barth Gimble with his gravel-voiced song, Waits cracks wise in an interview. Q: "Tom, where do you hail from?" A: "I come from Bedlam and Squalor."

4. Stevie Wonder on The Cosby Show

After Denise and Theo get into a fender bender with Stevie Wonder's limo, the singer invites the whole Huxtable family to visit him in the recording studio. Stevie ends up sampling the kids' voices for a new song, then sings a duet of "I Just Called to Say I Love You" with Clair. One of the best cameos ever.

5. Michael Stipe on The Adventures of Pete & Pete

The REM singer did a quick turn on the Nickelodeon kids' show as an eccentric ice cream vendor called Captain Scrummy. He pushed an item with the unappetizing name of "sludgecicle."

6. Roy Orbison on The Dukes of Hazzard

Boss Hog's Celebrity Speed Trap snared country stars like Buck Owens, Tammy Wynette, and Mel Tillis. But its biggest catch was Roy Orbison, who worked off his citation by singing "Oh Pretty Woman" at the Boar's Nest.

7. Bob Dylan on Dharma and Greg

In an episode called "Play Lady Play," Dharma auditions as a drummer for a band, not knowing who they are. The singer turns out to be Bob Dylan. After demonstrating her shaky chops, Dharma asks, "Do you want me to play some more?" Dylan replies, "Noooo."

8. Snoop Dogg on Just Shoot Me

After Finch (David Spade) is fired for canoodling with Jack's wife, he takes a job as an assistant to rapper Snoop Dogg. Eventually, Jack rehires him, prompting a misty-eyed Snoop to say, "I'm gonna miss that little blond fool."

9. Boy George on The A-Team

Faceman books country act Cowboy George into the Floor 'Em honky tonk. But a mix-up brings Boy George and Culture Club instead. Not exactly a match made in redneck heaven. But the fey singer catches the team's manly spirit and, in one memorable scene, kicks down a door.

10. Barry White on Ally McBeal

Nelle gets John the ultimate birthday present – a private performance from his favorite soul crooner, Barry White. "We got it together, didn't we, baby?" White says, as he shakes hands with the awestruck John.

11. David Bowie on Extras

The best rock star cameo ever. Andy (Ricky Gervais) has an awkward exchange with David Bowie in a bar, confessing that he has sold out to be in a sitcom. Bowie goes to the piano and writes a song with a verse that goes: "Pathetic little fat man / No one's bloody laughing / The clown that no one laughs at / They all just wish he'd die." Soon the entire bar is singing along.
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What other famous musicians do you remember dropping by popular shows?

For 11-11-11, we'll be posting twenty-four '11 lists' throughout the day. Check back 11 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all 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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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