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The Few, The Proud…Bea Arthur? 15 Celebrity Marines

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When you think “amphibious warfare,” is the first person that comes to mind Ed McMahon? Can you picture Bozo the Clown with a buzz cut? Say hello to these (mostly) fine men and women you might not have known were Marines.

1. Agent Maxwell Smart

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Don Adams was best known for his portrayal of the bumbling Agent 86 in the classic sitcom Get Smart. However, his stint as a Marine wasn’t quite as fun: After being shot during WWII’s Battle of Guadalcanal, Adams contracted a case of blackwater fever (a severe strain of malaria with a 90 percent mortality rate). He made a full recovery, and spent the rest of his military career rectifying the bumbling of others … as a drill instructor.

2. Shaggy

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The dance-hall superstar also known as Orville Burrell joined the Marines because it was “the one job I could get.” He served in Desert Storm, and it was his stint in the Corps that gave him the inspiration for his breakout hit, 1991’s “Boom-bastic.” Which makes sense, considering his role as a Field Artillery Cannon Crewman.

3. Bea Arthur

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She may have been one of the few, but she was not so proud: Toward the end of her life, Bea actually denied having any experience in the military. The whole truth didn’t come out until 2010, a year after she passed away, when it was revealed that Private Frankel worked as a truck driver and later married a fellow private, Richard Arthur.

4. Bozo the Clown

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One of them, anyway. Bob Bell enlisted with the Marines in the early days of WWII, despite lacking vision in one eye (he’d skirted this by memorizing the eye chart). Bell was given a medical discharge within a year and never saw action. Bell had a bit more success being in a clown outfit than a military one: He portrayed Bozo on Chicago’s WGN from 1960 to 1984.

5 and 6. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans

While better known for his persona as a Captain, Bob Keeshan only made it as far as Sergeant while in the Corps. As for his future co-star Mr. Green Jeans, Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum distinguished himself as an upright bassist in a Marine Corps band.

The two children’s show legends didn’t meet until after WWII.

7. Ed McMahon

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The world’s most famous sidekick grew up with a different ambition in mind: He had long dreamed of being a fighter pilot. He enlisted in the Marines during WWII, serving for 23 years, primarily as a reservist, before retiring as a Colonel in 1966.

8. Don Imus

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Before embarking on a long and occasionally controversial career in radio, the I-Man joined the Marines at the behest of his mother, who hoped it would keep him out of jail. He served from 1957-60, most notably as a bugler in the Marine Corps band.

9 and 10. The Everly Brothers

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The legendary rock duo enlisted in the Marines reserves in 1961 (they even went to basic training together). During their two-year stint with the Corps, two of their songs—“Crying in the Rain” and “That’s Old Fashioned”—cracked the Top 10, but they were unable to tour or otherwise capitalize on their success, due to their military commitments. They never cracked the Top 10 again.

11. Lee Harvey Oswald

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The Kennedy assassin joined the Corps in 1956, reportedly to follow in his brother’s footsteps, and to escape his overbearing mother. While there, he received lackluster grades in marksmanship, and was once court-martialed for accidentally shooting himself. Unfortunately, his aim improved by the time he got to Dallas.

12. C.J. Ramone

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When forced to replace founding bassist and legendary drug addict Dee Dee Ramone, The Ramones turned to an unlikely source: Christopher James Ward, a 22-year old Long Islander who was AWOL from the Marines at the time. Seeking a discharge from the Corps, he was first imprisoned for five weeks before serving a 7-year tour of duty with the seminal punk band.

13. Nate Dogg

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Best known for his guest appearances on pretty much every G-funk track known to man, the singer otherwise known as Nathaniel Hale had one life to give to his country. Which he did, dropping out of high school at age 16 for a three-year stint in the Corps.

14. Ed Wood Jr.

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The cross dresser and B-movie legend signed up for the Marines in 1942, two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, and later claimed he was terrified not of death, but of being injured … because he didn’t want anyone to know he was wearing a bra and panties underneath his military fatigues.

15. Drew Carey

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The comedian and Price Is Right host was a reservist in the 1980s.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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