Original image
Getty Images

8 Television Characters Who Were Supposed to Die … But Didn’t

Original image
Getty Images

Killing off a popular TV character is a surefire way to get your show noticed. Of course, there are characters who are killed temporarily, with every intention of returning (Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example); characters who return later, with some crazy explanation, to improve the ratings (Bobby Ewing in Dallas); and others who return to life to provide exciting dramatic twists (Tony Almeida in 24). Then there are characters who are supposed to die, but are saved, for any number of reasons.

1. Joe Coffey, Hill Street Blues

Officer Coffey (Ed Marinaro) was introduced in the first season of Hill Street Blues in 1981, partnered with Officer (later Sergeant) Lucy Bates (Betty Thomas). In his final scene, Coffey was clearly murdered by a suspect, providing a downbeat ending to the season. The episode was written in a hurry (when NBC asked for some extra episodes), and it was agreed that Coffey’s death was a powerful way to finish. However, the producers later decided that Coffey should stay. Though the shooting scene remained, his obvious death was edited out, and he was instead taken to hospital. He was eventually killed off anyway, but not until season 6.

2. Perpugilliam ‘Peri’ Brown, Doctor Who

Image Courtesy Dr. Who Image Archive
The 1986 death of Doctor’s first American companion (played by English actress Nicola Bryant) actually did make it to screen, but was retconned away only weeks later following protests. Back when Doctor Who was primarily a children’s series, Peri suffered a terrible fate, with her body being used to house the brain of an alien monster, then killed in the ensuing fight. “I loved my violent end,” Bryant said. “I told [producer] John Nathan-Turner I wanted to go out with a bang and I certainly didn’t want a tearful ‘Goodbye, Doctor’ scene or be married off to some hunky Martian. I was disappointed that the ending was negated, but I can see that they wanted to soften it because they were getting complaints from mothers wanting to know what to do with their distressed children, who were all Peri fans.” Though Bryant wasn’t brought back in to film further scenes, it was revealed in dialogue that her death was a hoax, and she had married a warrior-king.

You might think that—as Peri was killed, if only temporary—she doesn’t belong on this list any more than Bobby Ewing. If so, you can replace her with Leela, another of the Doctor’s assistants. When actor Louise Jameson left the series in 1978, she also wanted to be killed off, but the producer refused, hoping that she would change her mind and return at a later date. Again, she was married off—a fate that Jameson despised.

3. Erin Harkins, ER

Getty Images

Medical student Erin (Leslie Bibb) was introduced in ER in 2002 as a romantic interest for Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic). However, she was only there to add to Dr. Kovac’s downward spiral, which had included losing his wife and child in a bombing in Croatia. In one episode, he is called to work hung-over after a Christmas party, making a terrible mistake. He then crashes his car, with Erin in the passenger seat. The accident was to have killed her, adding to his trauma (from which he would gradually recover over the next season). However, the powers that be (in the form of writer and producer David Zabel, who created Erin) couldn’t let her die. The reason: Zabel had named her after his wife. “I had to come up with a better storyline to let her live,” he said. She made one last appearance, then exited the series—alive and in one piece.

4. Dr. Julie Parris, V

Image Courtesy IMDb

Normally, cancellation is not good news for a television character, but it worked well for young scientist Julie Parris (Faye Grant), one of the heroes of the alien invasion show V. Following two highly popular mini-series, the imaginatively titled V: The Series premiered in 1984. However, while ratings were okay, it was cancelled after 19 episodes because it was so expensive to make. Julie died heroically in the second season premiere, but this was never aired. When the novel V: The Second Generation (by Kenneth Johnson, the creator of V) was published in 2008, Johnson ignored all the events of the series, so that Julie was still alive and well, and still in charge of the Resistance.

5. Chiana, Farscape

Getty Images

Chiana, a white-skinned young delinquent from the interplanetary Nebari race, was introduced in an episode of the first season of Farscape in 1999, which was supposed to end with her heroically dying to save the hero, Crichton (Ben Browder), from being shot by an alien villain. However, it seemed clear that the character, played by Gigi Edgley, had enough appeal to become a regular character. The episode was quickly rewritten, and she stayed in the series until the final episode, some five years later.

6. Nicole Wallace, Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Image Courtesy Law & Order Wiki

Nicole (Olivia D’Abo), a duplicitous, child-murdering villain who had kept viewers entertained for years, was going to suffer her just deserts in a 2005 episode. However, the producers indeed decided to let viewers become the jury. Two versions of the ending were filmed: one in which she was gunned down, and one in which she escaped justice. Viewers could then watch both endings on the show’s website and vote for the one they preferred. “This is the chance to do something new in a medium that is more than 60 years old,” said Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, “and you don’t get that chance very often.” In an Internet poll of fans, 68 percent voted to kill her. Many of them protested that casual viewers could cast a vote. (“Not to be undemocratic,” posted one fan, “but should those people really be voting?”) Ultimately, casual viewers seemed to make the difference, with 53 percent of viewers deciding that Nicole should live to fight another day.

Intriguing fact: Australia, which doesn’t have the death penalty (and where a majority of people are against it), showed less compassion. When it was shown there, viewers in all states voted to kill her.

7. Cindy Chandler, Lost

Getty Images

Introduced in the 2004 pilot episode of Lost as “Flight Attendant #1”, Cindy (played by Canadian-Australian actor Kimberley Joseph) was briefly seen serving Jack (Matthew Fox) on Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, just before the plane crashed. Like most of the crew, she was assumed dead—and that was the idea. However, Joseph was noticed by a producer, and it was revealed in season two—in one of the countless twists of Lost—that she had survived and lived with the Others. She made several other appearances through the next five seasons.

8. Jesse Pinkman, Breaking Bad

Getty Images

Creator Vince Gilligan planned to kill off Walter White's sidekick early in the series. "I didn’t even know Jesse was supposed to die in the first season," Aaron Paul told The AV Club. "I found that out toward the end of the first season, and then the next couple of years, I was in a constant panic, thinking that this kid is going to meet his demise at any time." Paul went on to win two Emmys.

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
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image

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.