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8 Times Fans Mailed Items to Studios to Save Their Shows

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Dedicated TV fans will go above and beyond mere letter-writing to rescue the shows they love. We've already covered a few shows that fans staged mail-ins to save; here are a few more.

1. Red Vines for Fringe

When the sci-fi sleeper Fringe looked to be in jeopardy after its ratings-slow third season, fans mailed 200 cases of Red Vines licorice to Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. The candy was a nod to a main character on the show who frequently munched on them, even while performing autopsies.

Did it work? Indeed it did. The show came back for season four and concluded at the end of season five. Star Joshua Jackson publicly thanked the fans for their sweet support and acknowledged that they were largely behind the decision to renew.

2. Socks for Reaper

Reaper was a quirky little show on the CW about a bounty hunter for the devil and his slacker friends. Maybe it was a little too quirky for the general population, because the ratings weren't there, and the show was on the blocks after the first season. In honor of a character nicknamed "Sock," fans sent in—wait for it—socks. Hopefully clean socks, but I'm guessing that might not have been a priority.

Did it work? It did—fans were granted a second (and final) season.

3. Sunflower seeds for The 4400


USA Network’s sci-fi show The 4400 was hit with a triple whammy after its fourth season in 2007: Low ratings, the Writer’s Guild Strike, and budget problems meant that the show wasn’t slated to come back for season five. Inspired by a sunflower seed-spitting character on the show, fans managed to get corporate sponsorship to harass USA head honchos into renewing the show. Giants Sunflower Seeds company sent roughly 6,000 bags of the snacks to USA.

Did it work? No. The fourth-season cliffhanger wasn’t even resolved.

4. Wine corks for The New Adventures of the Old Christine

Though Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the first to break the Seinfeld curse, The New Adventures of Old Christine was still canceled after five seasons. Fans of the show conspired to send CBS their old wine corks in support of the neurotic Christine.

Did it work? It did not. But I bet CBS execs took the wine corks home and made all kinds of killer Pinterest projects.

5. Mars Bars for Veronica Mars

Cult favorite Veronica Mars was axed after its third season in 2007, fans sent the CW a deluge of Mars Bars—more then10,000—thinking the combination of fan support and chocolate might make execs comply.

Did it work? Not really, but thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Cloud Watchers will be visiting Mars again soon.

6. Daisies for Pushing Daisies

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I loved Pushing Daisies and now feel somewhat responsible for its demise. I didn’t know that fans were sending studio execs daisies and daisy seeds to protest the quirky series’ cancellation after a mere 22 episodes. What if they were just one seed packet away from agreeing to renew for a third season?

Did it work? Sadly, no. But fans are hoping for a Veronica Mars-like Kickstarter revival

7. Pants for MTV’s I Just Want My Pants Back

When the MTV comedy-drama was canceled in 2012 after just 12 episodes, die-hard fans rushed Viacom headquarters in New York and L.A., draping their unwanted jeans, khakis, and track pants over the company sign and on the lawn.

Did it work? Nope. Not even a little. Still canceled.

8. Flashmob for Community

OK, so fans of Community didn’t send anything to NBC, but they did gather outside of 30 Rock to participate in a protest flashmob. Participants wore fake beards and sang “O Christmas Troy.”

Did it work? Yep. The reason for the flashmob was that fans kind of panicked when they noticed Community went on hiatus in the middle of the 2011-2012 season, which is usually not a good sign. But the show resumed regular airings in February of 2012, and as of May 2013, it has been renewed for a fifth season.

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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”