Original image

10 Future Stars Who Appeared on '80s Crime Shows

Original image

Long before these stars were even a twinkle in a tabloid editor's eye, they built their resumes—and their acting chops—by guest starring in '80s crime shows.

1. Bryan Cranston — Matlock, "The Gift"

In a pre-Walter White world, Bryan Cranston plays an innocent man defended by the show’s titular hero, Ben Matlock.  This 1987 holiday-themed episode, part of the show's second season, even gets Cranston dressed in a Santa suit (he is charged with murdering his ex-wife during her Christmas party). To make things even sappier, the poor innocent man goes on trial because he was trying to visit his daughter. Prepare to get gooey over this episode full of holiday cheer. (Fun fact: Cranston would guest star on Matlock again, this time as a marriage counselor, in the 1991 episode "The Marriage Counselor.")

2. George Clooney — Murder She Wrote, "No Laughing Murder"

George Clooney has appeared in so many small roles that we could dedicate an entire “Before He Was Famous” post just to him. In fact, in 1987, he made appearances in two of the year’s top 10 shows (Golden Girls and Murder She Wrote). In Murder She Wrote, Clooney’s character gets engaged to the daughter of his father’s sworn enemy. Their weekend celebration at his future father-in-law’s retreat sets the scene for murder. Clooney has very little screen time, as Angela Lansbury was the main attraction. Oh, how the times have changed.

3. Liam Neeson — Miami Vice, "When Irish Eyes Are Crying"

Most people know Liam Neeson as a serious actor (Schindler’s List) who reinvented himself into an action hero (Taken). But we’re willing to bet most people can’t recall him on the '80s TV phenomenon, Miami Vice. Playing an IRA terrorist who romances Gina, a Miami detective, Neeson’s character meets a dramatic end by the episode’s conclusion.  What’s the funniest part of his appearance?  Neeson got the role by flirting with a casting director while he was in New York visiting Robert DeNiro.

4. Ed O'Neill — Hunter, "The Garbage Man"

A few years before Modern Family patriarch Ed O’Neill landed his breakthrough role on Married…with Children, he played a parole officer-turned-vigilante on a 1985 episode of Hunter. O’Neill had previously auditioned for the role of Sam Malone on Cheers, as had Hunter star Fred Dryer. And since Dryer played professional football for 13 years and Ed got cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers while in training camp, there might be some sort of “Six Degrees of Ed O’Neill” game in there somewhere…

5. Cuba Gooding Jr. — MacGyver, "The Challenge"

Forget about the Jerry Maguire catchphrases and his Oscar speech—nothing compares to Cuba Gooding Jr.'s MacGyver appearances in the late '80s/early '90s. In a multi-episode arc, Gooding Jr. portrayed Billy Colton, member of the Colton bounty hunting family; "The Challenge" was the episode that caught our attention, mostly because of jokes on the Internet about MacGyver’s dramatic confrontation of a racist (see video above). Try as he may somehow Cuba Gooding Jr. will never escape being part of pop culture’s punch lines—even when he’s not acting crazy.

6. Kathy Bates — Cagney and Lacey, "Revenge"

Kathy Bates has done it all: She won an Oscar for Misery, directed episodes of HBO's Six Feet Under, had a few flops (North and American Outlaws) ... and had a guest-starring role in a 1986 episode of Cagney and Lacey. Bates appears as a domestic abuse victim that refuses to press charges against her husband. When he ends up dead, Bates becomes one of many possible suspects. Though she has very little screen time, you can see the makings of a star.

7. Don Cheadle — Hill Street Blues, "Days of Swine and Roses"

When Don Cheadle was first starting out as an actor, he appeared in one episode of Hill Street Blues, playing a mentally ill man trying to reunite with his mother and sister. Though the episode feels dated—down to the police team trying out a computer in their car—Cheadle’s work is absolutely fresh. Special Bonus: Cuba Gooding Jr. has a “blink-and-you-miss-it" spot as a kid letting a pig loose in the police station.

8. Sean Bean — The Bill, "Long Odds"

Photo courtesy of Ship of Dreams

One of Game of Thrones star Sean Bean's earliest acting roles was that of an armed robber on a 1984 episode of the long-running British TV series set in London’s Sun Hill police station, The Bill. His character, Horace Clark, merrily escaped and left his partner to take the fall when the cops showed up during a post office robbery.

9. Sharon Stone — Remington Steele, "Steele Crazy After All These Years"

Remington Steele is well known as the show that shot Pierce Brosnan into fame. It also happens to be a series that featured Sharon Stone pre-Basic Instinct crotch shot. Since we all know Stone’s reputation now, it’s no surprise she was featured in an episode titled “Steele Crazy After All These Years.” Annie Potts is clearly the main guest star here, but Stone’s turn as a university homecoming queen—though it was only two scenes—was crucial, bizarre, and glamorous, just like Stone herself.

10. Brad Pitt — 21 Jump Street, "Best Years of Your Life"

We all know Johnny Depp rose to fame as an undercover police officer busting high school students on 21 Jump Street. How else could he have landed inside the pages of Tiger Beat? Unfortunately, though, Tiger Beat missed documenting Brad Pitt’s guest starring spot on the show. In the episode "Best Years of Your Life," Pitt plays exactly who you would expect—a letter jacket-wearing high school jock with a handsome face and terrible '80s hair. Don’t expect good times, though; the episode centered around teen suicide. Though seeing Pitt sit across the lunchroom table from Depp, pre-major stardom, definitely has its appeal.

BONUS: Matthew McConaughey — Unsolved Mysteries, "Texas' Most Wanted"

Photo courtesy of Total Film

Technically, we can't include this on the list because the episode in question aired in 1992. But we had to include it!

Before the world ever thought about Matthew McConaughey getting older and high school girls staying the same age (see Dazed and Confused) or the phrase “McConaissance,” they were watching the southern charmer play a Texan murder victim. As Unsolved Mysteries spent each week reenacting crimes and the unexplainable, they also unwittingly unleashed this oft-shirtless talent onto the world. In good news, the killer portrayed in McConaughey’s reenactment was eventually caught. Acting can save lives!

Additional Source: TV by the Numbers

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]