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The Early Acting Careers of Walking Dead Stars

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Gene Page/AMC

As Season Four marches on, let's look back at the early careers of some past and present cast members...before walkers roamed the Earth. Note: Spoilers!!

Melissa McBride


Frank Ockenfels/AMC

The actress who plays Carol Peletier sported the same close-cropped hairdo in The Mist, a 2007 Frank Darabont-directed film, and the style has become something of her trademark. McBride semi-retired from acting for a time, working as a casting director from 2000 until Darabont pegged her for the role of the abused housewife who eventually loses her daughter to walkers. But Melissa had a full head of long corkscrew curls when she played a doctor in the classic (to Conan O’Brien fans, anyway) “Lucas” episode of Walker, Texas Ranger back in 1997.

Andrew Lincoln


Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Fans are often surprised when they first hear the man who plays Rick Grimes speak in interviews, as his natural accent is more Oxford and Cambridge than Atlanta Cracker Barrel. When he first got into acting, Andrew Clutterbuck’s agent decided that his real surname (albeit a well-respected one in the U.K.) sounded a bit too Hobbit-esque for U.S. marquees, and he became Andrew Lincoln. His earliest acting roles were in his native England, as seen here in the 2000 crime drama Gangster Number One. Recognize the long-haired wild-eyed henchman in the camel coat?

Norman Reedus


Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Playing crossbow-wielding tough guy Daryl Dixon wasn’t too much of a stretch for Norman Reedus, whose breakout film role was as Murphy McManus in 1999’s The Boondock Saints. As Murphy, Reedus whacked creeps and lowlifes left and right with a variety of weapons. He’s appeared in a long list of indie films, most times in dark, brooding roles (even as Judas in the Lady Gaga video he was pretty menacing). But he’s never afraid to stretch his acting wings and wander in offbeat career directions…see if you can spot him in Bjork’s 1993 music video for her club hit “Violently Happy.”

Sarah Wayne Callies

Matthew Welch/AMC

Whether you wept or callously cheered when Lori Grimes died during an emergency C-section and then was shot by her own son, one universal thought that fans had about the character was surely “Geez, eat a sandwich!” Even in the flashback scenes, before their group was starving and about to eat dog food, Lori looked like a zipper when she stuck her tongue out. I only mention her bony body because it apparently is not her natural physique. She definitely was a little fleshier back in 2003 when she co-starred on WB’s Tarzan.

Jeffrey DeMunn

Matthew Welch/AMC

The Hollywood grapevine has intimated that Dale was not long for the Walking Dead world when showrunner Frank Darabont departed the series. DeMunn has had a long working relationship with Darabont and was allegedly very vocal on-set about the producer’s ouster. Here is DeMunn as he looked in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. The voice and the Eyebrows of Judgment are still highly recognizeable.

Laurie Holden

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Andrea is an amazing survivor—she managed to stay alive for seven months with the help of Michonne and still find time to touch up her roots. Laurie Holden started acting at a very young age; her first role was at the tender age of six when she was cast as Rock Hudson’s daughter in the 1980 TV mini-series The Martian Chronicles (photo courtesy of TVRage).

Steven Yeun

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Steven Yeun’s acting roots are actually in comedy, rather than sci-fi; Big Bang Theory fans probably remember seeing him in the flashback episode when Leonard first met Sheldon. After earning a theater degree from Michigan’s Kalamazoo College, he moved to Chicago where he performed with Second City and the Korean improv comedy troupe known as Stir-Friday Night. And while as Glenn Yeun struggles with basic chords on the guitar Dale found for him, in real life he’s an accomplished musician, as can be seen in this Stir-Friday Night “Auction Date” sketch he filmed back in 2006.

Scott Wilson

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Of all the main characters, Hershel’s accent should probably ring the truest, since actor Scott Wilson was born and raised in Georgia. He hitchhiked to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to try his hand at an acting career and landed his first film role six years later as a murder suspect in In the Heat of the Night. That same year (1967) he was cast as one of the leads in In Cold Blood, which landed him on the cover of LIFE Magazine, along with his co-star Robert Blake.

Michael Rooker

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

In the “knock me over with a feather” category, we learn that Daryl’s psycho, abusive older brother, Merle (as played by Michael Rooker), not only once had a head full of curly hair, he also portrayed a conscience-free murderer in his first film role, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

This post originally appeared before Season Three.

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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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