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11 Nickelodeon Shows From the '80s

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Plenty of former Nickelodeon viewers think of the network as the home of Clarissa Explains It All, Rugrats, You Can't Do That on Television, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Here are 11 shows from the '80s that may not be remembered quite as fondly, but are still worth another look.

1. Out of Control

The network’s first original live-action series has another big distinction to its name—it was the first home of Dave Coulier’s “Cut...it...out!” catchphrase. A sketch comedy show that skewed a bit older, Out of Control came complete with recurring characters, wacky skits, and bits like “Let’s Eat,” a segment that saw Coulier hitting various restaurants that claimed to have “the world’s best” of a certain item. The show ran for only one season, from October 1984 to May 1985.

2. Eureeka’s Castle

Co-created and written by popular Goosebumps author R.L. Stine, Eurkeea’s Castle was a charming, family-friendly outing that relied on puppets and wizardry to present some pretty clever characters and situations. Set in a wind-up castle that doubles as a music box (that's also owned by a lovable giant), Eureeka’s Castle focused on wizard-in-training Eureeka and her pack of wacky friends, most notably the tail-challenged dragon Magellan. The show first debuted in 1989 and ultimately carried on for six full seasons.

3. Adventures of the Little Koala

If there’s one big takeaway from the cartoon series The Adventures of the Little Koala, it’s that the sleepy marsupials go nutty for eucalyptus leaves. But the Japanese production was all about multiculturalism—both in execution and release—as it followed the eponymous little koala, Roo-bear, and his many animal and human friends. It was translated and dubbed into other languages, including Greek, Italian, and French. The English-language version first aired on Nick in October of 1984, running 52 episodes until March of the next year.

4. Count Duckula

This British show focused on, you guessed it, an animated duck version of Count Dracula. Originally spun-off from the Nick series Danger Mouse, the dastardly duck-centric cartoon debuted on the network in September 1988, eventually running on the channel for just one season (though 65 episodes were made). The series was set in Transylvania and primarily used bird versions of classic characters—Doctor Von Goosewing filled in for Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, for example—to tell kid-friendly versions of frightful tales.

5. Don’t Just Sit There

The early years of original Nick programming were punctuated with kid adaptions of adult formats, like the talk show Don’t Just Sit There, which was a mix of chat and comedy. The show was hosted by various kids and teens over its three-season run, most notably Will Friedle, who went on to star in the classic series Boy Meets World. The show boasted plenty of cool guests—from William Shatner to New Kids on the Block—along with its own late night TV-style house band, Out of Order.

6. Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!

Nick has long tried to make educational fare fun and relevant, and there’s no greater example of that than Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!, a series that went behind the scenes to show its younger viewers what it takes to make a movie. It’s a cool idea on its own, but you know what made it even better? It was hosted by Leonard Nimoy. Spock himself took kids behind the camera for films like Return of the Jedi, The Dark Crystal, Octopussy, and yes, even Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

7. Kids' Court

A frightening idea to parents during any era, Kids' Court sought to settle the grievances of viewers by way of mailed-in issues, on-camera child representation, and a scream-o-meter to determine winners. Very true to real-life court! The audience got to choose sentences to mete out to the bad guys, all but guaranteeing a wild and raucous time for everyone. While its grasp on the legal system was loose, the show tried to inject some education during commercial breaks, when it would present quiz questions about the actual legal way to do things. The show aired briefly from 1988 to 1989.

8. PopClips

How progressive is Nickelodeon? PopClips is generally viewed as the direct predecessor of a little something called MTV. Created by former Monkee Mike Nesmith, the '80s-era program was the first music video-centric show, featuring clips from bands like The Pretenders, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, and The Rolling Stones. The show even had VeeJays. PopClips only aired for a bit—from late 1980 to early 1981—but its influence is felt even now.

9. Think Fast!

Nick has long loved game shows (perhaps even more than talk shows), and the energetic Think Fast! was one of their first. Airing between 1989 and 1991, the show combined some classic tropes—two teams of two, buzzing in, playing for money—with some interesting new twists, including an event that echoed the repetition of the classic Simon toy, a misdirection game that involved a random clown, and the ever-weird “Leaning Tower of Stuff” (that’s the one where you need to craft a leaning tower of, uh, stuff).

10. Turkey Television

This Canadian sketch comedy show was centered around an animated turkey named Thurman T. Turkey, who specialized in repackaging TV shows from around the world. For example, it featured a Dr. Joyce Brothers parody. Weird Al Yankovic showed most of his videos on the series. Like the show's “Hams Across America” sketch, it was all very strange and very funny. Sadly, it lasted just one season (from 1985 to 1986).

11. Hey, Dude

Sure, this may be a bit of cheat—who can forget Hey, Dude?—but you might not realize the show actually started in the '80s, not in the heady days of the '90s. The dude ranch-set teen sitcom made its debut on the network on July 14, 1989, and continued on for five seasons. The series followed the hijinks of the Bar None Dude Ranch's charming teen staff. Fans will be happy to know that Hey, Dude still pops up on TeenNick from time to time.

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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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