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RIP Dick Clark (1929-2012)

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© Bettmann/CORBIS

Since so much will be written about Dick Clark’s tenure on American Bandstand and the Pyramid game shows elsewhere, we'll try to provide you with some Dick Clark stories you may not necessarily read in the various official obituaries. Feel free to share any Bandstand or New Year’s Rockin’ Eve or Pyramid memories as we bid a sad farewell to an old friend.

He Wanted to Share His Youthful Look with Other Men

Dick Clark was frequently referred to as America’s Oldest Teenager not just because he spun the latest hits on American Bandstand, but also because of his Dorian Gray-ish unlined face. He dispelled those nasty cosmetic surgery rumors by not only launching a line of “male cosmetics” in 1985, but also by publishing his Easygoing Guide to Good Grooming the following year. Dick Clark Cosmetics offered moisturizers and gentle skin cleansers as well as bronzers and various shades of under eye cover-up.

Alas, Clark overestimated the average American male's comfort level when it came to smearing pancake on the face, and his cosmetics line went kaput rather quickly. However, in 1993 he tried a different tack – selling male skin care products (under the Geviderm label) via infomercials on late-night TV. Turns out many men didn’t really mind slathering on cold cream as long as they received the product anonymously through the mail.

He Had Two Very Special Fans

Flo and Kay Lyman are the only identical female twin autistic savants in the world. The fifty-something women can remember everything that has ever happened to them, from the title and artist of a song (and when they first heard it), to the weather on a particular date, to what they ate on any given day. And just like Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man character religiously watched and took notes on every episode of The People’s Court, so did the Lyman sisters with The $25,000 Pyramid and all its permutations. They kept carefully coded charts on the game, marking down every clue used, every mistake buzzed, and every color of suit worn by their idol, Dick Clark. Their brother-in-law once observed: “They need food, they need air, and they need Dick Clark.”

They wrote to Clark and he answered their letters and sent them cards every year on their birthday. He arranged to have the sisters visit him at his home and took their calls whenever they phoned. Flo and Kay were devastated when Clark had a stroke in 2004; they formed a small shrine in their bedroom, praying regularly for his recovery. Clark had not fully recovered from his stroke when tragedy again struck the twins; their younger sister, who’d been their guardian for much of their adult lives, died suddenly of a heart attack. Their immediate impulse was to phone Dick Clark, who, despite his own health issues, comforted them and also mailed them a lengthy sympathy card encouraging them to soldier on and remember that their sister was in heaven watching over them.

Lindsey Buckingham Puked on His Rug

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album had been a monster hit in 1977 and was still selling steadily in 1978 when they attended the American Music Awards. Their first award of the evening was for favorite album, and all five band members made it to the podium unscathed to accept their statue. Later in the evening, however, whatever guitarist Lindsey Buckingham had consumed prior to and during the show had seriously kicked in by the time Fleetwood Mac was announced as favorite artist. He stumbled and fell to all fours while ascending the stairs to the stage. While his bandmates waited for him at stage left he staggered stage right.

Producer Dick Clark summoned the band to his office backstage afterward for a confrontation, but before the dressing-down got started Buckingham livened up the proceedings by vomiting all over Clark’s plush hunter green pile carpeting. Clark dismissed the band by picking up his phone and summoning an assistant to walk them out.

He Knew Ed McMahon Longer than Johnny Carson Did

Ed McMahon was struggling to launch a career in broadcasting when he landed a $75 per week announcing job at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia in 1949. He moved into the Drexelwood apartments in Philly and did odd jobs at the complex to help pay his rent. His next door neighbor was a young disc jockey named Dick Clark who hosted a weekly dance party in the apartment building’s club house. The two became good friends and stayed in contact after each moved to Los Angeles to pursue different career paths. Many years later the pair would work together co-hosting TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes and as pitchmen for American Family Publishers (not Publisher’s Clearing House!).

He Was Many Things, But Not a Prognosticator

As my friends and family can attest, I’m not one to throw things out. As a result, I still have a 1975 issue of Teen magazine that looks back at the fashions and fads of the past 15 years. One article also interviews prominent celebs of the time to ask their predictions as to who and what would be popular 15 years hence. Dick Clark’s confident reply as to what major music stars would still be rockin’ our world in 1990? Elvis Presley and the Osmonds. Oh, and he also commented that we probably hadn’t heard the last of Englebert Humperdinck, either.

See Also: The Scandal That Taught Dick Clark to “Protect Your Ass at All Times”

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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]