CLOSE
Original image
Top Ten TV

11 Actors You May Have Forgotten Were in Band of Brothers

Original image
Top Ten TV

HBO has an archive of award-winning material, but perhaps the crown jewel in the cable channel's mini-series program is Band of Brothers, a ten-episode special presentation that brought World War II to startling on-screen life in 2001.

Chronicling the real-life experiences of the Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne, Brothers dove deep inside some of the most essential parts of the war, from D-Day to Market Garden to the taking of Hitler’s private holiday residence. The remarkable stories told within it were only bolstered by a massive cast of new and emerging talent. Much of Band of Brothers was filmed in the UK, resulting in the casting of a bevy of up-and-coming British actors as some of America’s finest soldiers (alongside plenty of American talent, too), and also guaranteeing that you’ve probably forgotten many of the men who made the series so great.

1. Michael Fassbender

Getty Images

Though born in Germany, Michael Fassbender was raised in Ireland and got many of his big breaks in London—like his role as Sgt. Burton “Pat” Christenson in Band of Brothers. Don’t remember seeing Fassbender in the series? We can’t blame you—still an apple-cheeked newbie (the series is only his second on-screen credit), Fassbender may be present in seven episodes, but he really only stands out in two of them.

In the series’ opener, “Currahee,” Fassbender’s Christenson is just one of many whipping boys targeted by the nefarious Captain Sobel, and he’s punished for drinking from his canteen during a hilltop run with, yes, still more running. Fassbender most frequently appears in background shots for much of the series, including a memorable sequence in the wrenching “Why We Fight,” when he stands by while his unit attempts to make sense of the concentration camp they just discovered.

2. Tom Hardy

Getty Images

While Tom Hardy doesn’t appear in as many episodes as Fassbender (his Pvt. John Janovec is a replacement who shows up in the final two entries in the series), he certainly shows off more than his compatriot. While Fassbender and Hardy are both known for their physical (and actually naked) roles in big films these days, it’s Hardy who leaps off the screen sans skivvies in Band of Brothers.

The first time we meet his Janovec, he’s engaging in a little R&R with a local lass, and the pair are forced to stop their amorous activities when a higher-ranking officer busts in. It was a memorable start to the actor’s career: Band of Brothers is Hardy’s first on-screen credit. He followed the series with a role in Black Hawk Down, and all that military movie training seems to have foreshadowed some of his bigger roles—like the rebel-leading baddie Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

3. James McAvoy

Getty Images

That’s right: Both Magneto and Professor X appear in Band of Brothers. Unlike Michael Fassbender, however, James McAvoy didn’t get to stick around for seven episodes; he only shows up in one.

The remarkable thing about Band of Brothers is that it manages to cover so many key events in the war while still sticking with just one company. Easy Company really was on the ground for the many events the series portrays, and when McAvoy appears as fresh-faced Pvt. James W. Miller in an episode titled “Replacements,” it’s part of a real sea change in the series. “Replacements” takes place after the events of D-Day, when Easy Company is in need of, you guessed it, replacements to fill the roles of the recently lost. McAvoy's character is roughed up a bit by the veterans who balk at the zippy attitudes of the new dudes, attitudes that won’t serve them well in their next big operation—Market Garden. You can probably guess that McAvoy’s Miller doesn’t make it out alive, but the Scottish actor manages to leave a lasting mark with his small role (only the seventh on his very long resume).

4. Ron Livingston

Getty Images

Just two years after Office Space, Ron Livingston appeared as the wry, whisky-swilling Capt. Lewis Nixon in every single episode of Band of Brothers. Mainly assigned to intelligence-aimed operations, Nixon doesn’t ever see combat in the series—and that’s a good thing, because Livingston’s mix of humor (no other actor turns in as many amusing and on-point facial expressions as Livingston does in this series) and drama (Nixon goes through war with the black cloud of an impending divorce and an alcohol addiction hanging over him) proves essential to the series. Even when Nixon’s personal life is going down the tubes (during, you know, a world war), Livingston’s presence is always a welcome one. His bond with our next entry is also one of the most realistic-feeling and ultimately touching elements of the entire miniseries, too, and that’s something worth remembering.

5. Damian Lewis

Getty Images

Like Ron Livingston, Damian Lewis is one of the main actors in Band of Brothers. Though he might be more famous for his role in Homeland, the actor does very solid, very moving work in Band of Brothers.

As the eventual Maj. Richard D. Winters (Lewis’s character rises through the ranks throughout the series, and in a big way), the actor was tasked with playing arguably the most beloved character in the series—or, at least, the one most beloved by his men. A leader in the best and truest sense of the word, Winters consistently serves both his men and his rank, and he’s paid back in sparkling loyalty and admiration. Lewis is wonderful in the role, bringing the right amount of gravitas and bewilderment to a man who clearly deserved all the praise he received. Rooting him in reality is his bond with Livingston’s Nixon—the pair signed up for the 101st together, and their journey through the war is an unsentimental look at the power and value of friendship.

Like many of the other stars of the miniseries, Lewis is also British, and the series was one of his first big parts. He’d previously popped up for one-off roles in a few television shows and even had a big arc on the series Hearts and Bones, but Band of Brothers was his real breakthrough, and he delivered on that with a bullet.

6. David Schwimmer

Getty Images

Despite its title, Band of Brothers isn’t just about a whole company of men who loved each other like kin—there are more than a few bad apples in the bunch. None, however, compare to David Schwimmer’s Captain Sobel, a villain for the ages (and a strangely understandable one, at that).

Smack in the middle of his work on Friends, Schwimmer took on the decidedly un-Ross Geller role of Sobel. As the main focus of the series’ first episode, Schwimmer’s Sobel is a hard-nosed, unrelenting, and often just plain enraging leader who works the men of Easy Company to the bone during their training exercises back in America. Sobel is never nice, never kind, and never fair (he even tussles with Winters, of all people!), and he’s rewarded for that by a series of staggering demotions and a company that hates him. That’s right, the seemingly perfect Sobel may know how to train, but once he hits the battlefield, he’s an utter disaster who is unable to even properly read a map.

7. Simon Pegg

Getty Images

Well, we said Band of Brothers was outfitted with a metric ton of British actors, and who gets more British than funnyman Simon Pegg? As 1st Sgt. William Evans, Pegg appears in the first pair of episodes, mainly as Sobel’s near-silent right-hand man. He does get off one memorable line, though it only stands out because Pegg’s American accent is so well done that it might make viewers wonder if that really is the actor (it is!).

8. Jimmy Fallon

Getty Images

Another funnyman filled a small but recognizable role in the series: Jimmy Fallon literally drives in and out of one sequence as 2nd Lt. George C. Rice. As the 101st prepares to enter the icy forests of Bastogne (where the Battle of the Bulge will eventually take place) in the miniseries’ fifth episode, “Crossroads,” it begins to slowly dawn on them that they are woefully unprepared for what’s before them.

As the men begin to beg, barter, and all but steal supplies from outgoing troops (from winter apparel to artillery), a single officer zips his way toward them in an Army jeep. It’s Fallon! Or, well, Rice! And he’s got supplies to share! It would, of course, be a funny appearance, if not for the fact that their creeping realization that even Rice’s contributions won’t be enough to get them through a wrenching winter ends up being upsettingly true.

9. Colin Hanks

Getty Images

Band of Brothers was produced by Tom Hanks, who also helped pen the episode “Currahee” and eventually directed “Crossroads,” so it’s not totally surprising that his son would show up in a role. Colin Hanks appears in just two episodes—tough ones, too—as 2nd Lt. Henry Jones, a recent West Point grad who joins Easy Company with an officer commission and zero experience. It’s unfortunate that Jones comes on board when he does, as his lack of battlefield know-how doesn’t endear him to the company, to the point that he feels the need to volunteer for a poorly-conceived mission in order to impress them.

The part was one of Hanks’ first big roles, though he had already started his run on TV’s Roswell a couple of years before, and his solid performance easily erases any possible cries of nepotism.

10. Dominic Cooper

Getty Images

Despite the remarkable listing of talent in Band of Brothers, only one of our entries seems impossible to find within the actual series—Dominic Cooper, who apparently appears as someone named “Allington” in the show’s first episode. That episode, “Currahee,” does serve as a flashback entry, one that depicts the training of the 101st back in America, so it seems that Cooper was tasked with playing one of many troops that populate some of the more sweeping scenes. Perhaps he was even there when Fassbender made his big debut! In any case, Band of Brothers marks only Cooper’s fifth on-screen credit.

11. Donnie Wahlberg

Getty Images

Like Lewis and Livingston, Wahlberg was a mainstay of Band of Brothers. As Sgt. C. Carwood Lipton, Wahlberg appears in all 10 episodes. Like his character, he was reliable, consistent, and strong—the men may adore Winters, but they also appreciate Lipton.

Though Wahlberg was already well on his way to a respected acting career by the time he signed up for the series—The Sixth Sense, in which he has a pivotal role, hit screens in 1999—Band of Brothers added some guns and gravitas to his resume. He went on to a bevy of television work, big film franchises (Saw!), and an eventual return to the New Kids on the Block.

Primary image courtesy of Top Ten TV.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
Stephen Missal
crime
arrow
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
Original image
A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES