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11 Broadway Musicals Featuring Characters in the U.S. Military

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Not only have the men and women of the United States Armed Forces served their country, they have also served as inspiration for the Great White Way.

1. Carmelina (1979)

This was the story of a single mother who told everyone in her small Italian town that the father of her teenage daughter was an American soldier who died heroically in battle during WWII. In reality, she had affairs with three different GI's, all of whom were still very much alive and one of whom was the real father. She's forced to face the truth when the entire American battalion returns to her village for a reunion. If that story sounds familiar, that's because it was based on the same story that would later inspire international musical phenomenon Mamma Mia.

2. Let's Face It! (1941 – 1943)

Despite the escalation of WWII, Cole Porter's forgettable Let's Face It! asked its men in uniform to serve as gigolos. Three wives are convinced their husbands go on so-called "camping trips" to commit adultery. In attempt to make their men jealous, they invite a trio of young GI's for a weekend at one of their Hamptons summer homes. While the young privates are willing, their girlfriends are not so pleased. So, the girlfriends decide to get their own revenge and seduce the husbands – who are actually just camping.

3. Bye Bye Birdie (1960 – 1961, first run)

In 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted. Bye Bye Birdie was a tongue-in-cheek response to the hysteria that ensued. After learning fictional crooner Conrad Birdie has been drafted, his handlers decide to capitalize on the situation. They bang out a new single for him entitled "One Last Kiss," and select a random small town teenager to be his "one last kiss" before he goes off to the army.

4. The Lieutenant (1975)

A rock opera about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam that opened on Broadway weeks before the fall os Saigon was, perhaps, a little too soon. It closed 7 days after it opened and has not seen any major revivals since. Despite its brief run, The Lieutenant still managed to snag 4 Tony nominations.

5. White Christmas (2009)

Though released as a film in 1954, Irving Berlin's White Christmas did not make it to Broadway until 2009. But without the army, there would be no White Christmas. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye's characters meet in the army during WWII, developing a song-and-dance routine that would make them famous after their service. Kaye uses an injury he sustained while saving Crosby's life to bribe him into going to a New England inn with some cute sisters. They discover their former general owns the inn and it is for the financial benefit of this retired general that they put on a Christmas extravaganza that includes the song "Gee I Wish I Was Back in the Army."

6. The Civil War (1999)

Inspired by the likes of Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, President Lincoln, and Ken Burns, the creator of The Civil War decided the people of this time period needed a musical treatment. This included both Union Soldiers and Confederates. It also featured song-accompanied combat, such as the First Battle of Bull Run. The bloody body count at the end of the show did not resonate with theatergoers, and the show closed after 2 months.

7. Miss Saigon (1991 – 2001)

By 1991, American audiences were ready to see a musical about the Vietnam conflict. A young U.S. marine falls in love with a 17-year-old Vietnamese prostitute only to be forced out of her arms in order to flee Vietnam. He leaves young Kim behind with a broken heart and a baby on the way. He returns to Vietnam to find his new child, but the encroaching Viet Cong spells imminent disaster.

8. Hair (1968 – 1972)

A musical about a bunch of hippies living on the streets, taking hallucinogenic drugs, getting completely naked, and growing their hair "long as they could show it" actually had everything to do with the army. This motley crew was made up of anti-Vietnam draft-dodgers. The message of peace, love, and counterculture was not enough to keep main character Claude from ultimately answering the draft, cutting his hair, joining the army, and then dying in battle.

9. On the Town (1944 – 1946)

Three American sailors unload at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for their 24-hour shore leave. Let loose in the Big Apple, they find adventure, love, and frequent occasions to break into songs like "New York, New York." But even a musical as exuberant as On the Town ends on a somber note when the men must return to their ship and set sail into the uncertain future of a world at war.

10. South Pacific (1949 – 1954)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic told the story of a naval station on an island in the South Pacific. The restless sailors stationed there lust after a mystical island full of kept women known as Bali Ha'i. A naïve Naval nurse wrestles with the racial prejudices instilled in her by a conservative upbringing. All the while, WWII rages on and the Navy must eventually face the imminent threat of Japanese convoys.

11. This Is the Army (1942)

Commissioned to entertain the army during WWI, mega-composer Irving Berlin wrote the musical Yip! Yip! Yaphank! The show never made it to Broadway, remaining a hit among military personnel only. Then, during WWII, Berlin decided to update his old musical and take it to Broadway to raise money for the military. With the blessing of the army, he titled it This Is the Army and gathered an all-military cast. It was so popular that the show went on tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. It was then made into a film starring a young Lieutenant by the name of Ronald Reagan.

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
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.