Original image

5 Famous Characters with Brunette Evil Twins

Original image

Having an evil twin can be a drag. They run around causing mischief and often trying to steal their innocent twin’s identity. Thankfully for us, when it comes to the realm of fiction, it's easy to tell the good twin apart from the evil one: by their hair. Here are five famous (and unfortunate) characters that had to deal with a brunette evil twin.

1. Samantha from Bewitched

Sixties television loved using the brunette evil twin trope. For those who remember Bewitched, Samantha was the beloved blonde housewife who also doubled as a witch with magical powers. With just a twitch of her nose, Samantha could wiggle her way out of any troublesome situation. She also had an evil "twin" in her cousin, Serena. Elizabeth Montgomery donned a black, cropped wig while playing Serena. The evil witch also sported a beauty mark on her cheek. During Bewitched’s eight-year run, Serena caused all sorts of trouble with her flirtatious antics.

2. Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie

Like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie created an evil twin for its main character. To make things doubly confusing, Jeannie’s evil, brunette counterpart was also named Jeannie. Like most evil twins, the brunette Jeannie tried to steal the identity of her blonde sister and caused all sorts of problems while trying to impersonate her.

When Sidney Sheldon first created the show, he wanted to cast Jeannie as a brunette to avoid confusion with Samantha from Bewitched. However, he could not find an actress to portray Jeannie as he had envisioned her, so he was forced to cast the blonde Barbara Eden as his lead. Jeannie’s brunette evil twin was likely created to at least partially satisfy Sheldon’s initial wishes for a raven-haired Jeannie.

3. Ginger from Gilligan’s Island

In the Gilligan’s Island episode “All About Eva," a brunette comes to the island ... and looks suspiciously like Ginger. When the dark-haired Eva meets the gang, everyone befriends her and tries to change her appearance to make her resemble Ginger even more. By the end of the episode, Eva fulfills her role as an evil twin by leaving the island and taking Ginger’s identity.

4. Sabrina from Sabrina the Teenage Witch

In the 1990s short-lived animated version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina had a brunette evil twin named Damina (who was actually her cousin). While they looked exactly alike, Cousin Damina was a little more innocent than most evil twins and chose not to steal Sabrina’s identity. However, since the show lasted only 65 episodes, who knows what kind of trouble Damina could have caused had it been more successful?

5. Ariel from The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid contains probably the best-known example of the evil brunette twin trope. In the popular Disney movie, Ariel is a mermaid who falls in love with a human. Against her father’s wishes, Ariel makes a deal with the evil Ursula to grow legs and meet the handsome Prince Eric—if she gives up her voice. Ariel can only gain her voice back and stay human if she receives a true love’s kiss from Prince Eric within three days. When Ursula senses that Ariel is close to winning the deal, she transforms into Ariel’s evil brunette twin, Vanessa. Vanessa then uses Ariel’s stolen voice to try and steal Prince Eric from her, but you probably already know how that plan ends.

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
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]