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16 Reasons We Love George Takei

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George Takei may be best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But there's far more to Takei than manning the helm of the USS Enterprise—here are 16 reasons we love him.

1. He Has a Nice Asteroid

In 2007, the asteroid formerly known as "1994 GT9" got a star makeover with its new name: 7307 Takei. Occupying a lovely neighborhood between Mars and Jupiter, 7307 Takei joins asteroids named for fellow Star Trek legends Gene Roddenberry (4659 Roddenberry) and Nichelle Nichols (68410 Nichols). Upon learning of the honor, Takei told the Associated Press, "I am now a heavenly body."

2. He's a Dutiful Son

Takei's 1994 autobiography, To the Stars, is dedicated "To Daddy," and it opens with a remembrance of Takei's childhood years spent with his Japanese-American family in several internment camps during World War II. Takei wrote about his mother's attitude during the train journey to the first camp:

...[We] all faced an unknown future, but the reality before us had to be dealt with. She was determined to make her own certainty out of our collective uncertainty. As certain as the rice balls she had wrapped in seaweed and packed in her hand luggage to supplement the cold train box lunches. She was not going to yield to the monotony that others accepted as inevitable. She had stuffed into her limited luggage space special treats for the children; a few lollipops, packages of animal crackers, and Cracker Jack boxes that contained little surprise toys. She packed story books for Daddy to read to us. Boredom was a foe she was determined to fight.

And she didn't just pack snacks—she smuggled in a portable sewing machine to make new clothes as the kids grew! Decades later, Takei and his husband Brad brought "Mama" into their home and cared for her in her final years. This devotion was even mentioned in Takei's wedding vows.

3. He Played the Father of Heroes Hero "Hiro"

On the TV series Heroes, Takei played Kaito Nakamura, the father of the time/space-bending Hiro Nakamura. Takei's character rolls up in a limo bearing the license plate NCC-1701 (the registry number of the original USS Enterprise). "Nakamura" happens to be the maiden name of Takei's mother, Fumiko Emily Nakamura. (It's unclear whether this is just a coincidence; Nakamura is a common Japanese surname.)

4. He and His Brother are Named After Kings

George Takei was born on April 20, 1937. His parents settled on the name "George" in honor of King George VI of England, whose coronation was just weeks away. (George Takei's middle name is Hosato, Japanese for "village of the bountiful harvest.")

When George's brother was born a year later, he was named Henry after King Henry VIII. Their sister was born two years later, and was given the name Nancy, after a family friend, with the middle name Reiko, Japanese for "gracious child." (Given enough time, we may see a Queen Nancy. You just wait.)

5. His Husband Brad is Rad

George Takei has been with Brad Altman for over 20 years. After California overturned its ban on same-sex marriage, Takei and Altman promptly applied for a marriage license and were married on September 14, 2008. Takei posted their vows online, along with photos of the ceremony. Walter Keonig, Star Trek's Chekov, was their best man; Nichelle Nichols, Uhura, was the matron of honor.

Altman told Larry King, "I'm not a spokesperson for any cause. I just know that George and I love each other, George is the love of my life, and I think everybody should be allowed to get married." Here's the happy couple explaining how married couples should fill out census forms:

6. He Speaks Out About the Injustice of WWII Japanese American Internment

During World War II, FDR made an Executive Order to round up and imprison roughly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. They were forced to live in ten concentration camps, despite about two-thirds of them being American citizens. George Takei and his family were interned when George was young, and he has written extensively about the experience, most recently creating a musical called Allegiance that explores this dark chapter in American history. He also co-founded the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

In 2004, the Japanese government awarded Takei the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette to honor his lifelong work promoting U.S.-Japan relations. He wrote, "Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be flying to Tokyo to be granted a decoration by the Emperor of Japan in the Imperial Palace for activities I enjoyed and found personally engaging."

7. He Blames/Thanks Howard Stern for "Oh Myyy!"

George Takei is indelibly linked with the phrase, "Oh myyy!" intoned in his rich voice. In Takei's book Oh Myyy! (There Goes The Internet), Takei credits Howard Stern for associating him with the phrase. Takei wrote:

Howard also seemed to have fallen in love with me saying “Oh my!” whenever he said or did something outrageous, like when he asked one voluptuous young woman on his show to take her bra off. “Oh my!” What else could I say? It was even more apt when she did. “Oh my!” indeed. Howard, for some unfathomable reason, thought my reflexive “Oh my!” was hilarious. So he played a recording of it over and over again — even when I wasn’t on the show. I thought it was silly, but it was also admittedly quite droll.

I first realized “Oh my!” was becoming personally linked with me when I went on a national book tour for To the Stars. Young men who had patiently stood in line for my autograph would slip the book toward me with roguishly insinuating smiles and ask me to sign it with “Oh my!” I knew right away they were Howard Stern fans and realized then that it had become my signature phrase.

Takei now releases his books via his own publisher, Oh Myyy! Limited Liability Company.

8. He Has His Own Signature Fragrance

Bearing the slogan "Set Phasers to Stunning," George Takei's Eau My cologne is a real product. It's a unisex fragrance with "top notes of mandarin zest, Italian bergamot, and fresh ozone." Hmm. The Mary Sue reviewed the fragrance, noting, “It smells like something I should like, but don’t.”

9. He Played a Heart on Adventure Time

Takei voiced the memorable character Ricardio, a "wizard heart" on Adventure Time. Naturally, Ricardio utters Takei's catchphrase:

10. His Favorite Star Trek Episode is "The Naked Time"

It's hard for me to pick a favorite Star Trek episode. Should I go with "The Trouble With Tribbles," or "Amok Time," or maybe "Mirror, Mirror"? For Takei, the choice is obvious: "The Naked Time" is tops. In the episode, crew members lose their inhibitions after being infected by a form of space madness. Naturally, this leads to a shirtless, swashbuckling Sulu having a great time. You can watch "The Naked Time" on Hulu for free, or just enjoy Takei discussing the episode (and his fencing training) here:

11. He's a Former Marathon Runner

Takei doesn't just fence; he has run a bunch of marathons as well! He earned his best time in 1989, completing the LA Marathon in 3 hours, 40 minutes. (As a point of comparison, the average marathon time for men in the U.S. is about 4:26...and Takei was over age 50 when he ran that 1989 race!)

He stopped running marathons just a few years later, but reflected on the experience in 2006, writing:

It has been fifteen years since my last and final marathon. That was the London Marathon back in 1991. Since that punishing run, I have become a steadfast follower of, what is called, the Law of Nature. It decrees that as time passes, the mind is supposed to grow with insights as the body gives up its strength. It didn't take my mind to inform my body that the latter is true. I can't run 26.2 miles anymore. My days of running marathons are over.

12. He Writes Epic Amazon Product Reviews

In his spare time, Takei writes reviews of Amazon products, giving us a glimpse of his hilariously-imagined home life. Here's a snippet from his one-star review of an inflatable horn for cats (emphasis added):

Their easy, idyllic life changed—and ours along with it—when Brad ordered ACCOUTREMONTS INFLATABLE UNICORN HORNS FOR CATS. Surprisingly, our cats didn't resist and seemed almost *delighted* when we strapped the horns on. Once anointed, they sat straight up, gazing pensively at one another, their eyes aglow with a preternatural light. They tipped their heads to the left and to the right before commencing an eerie combination of mewling and rapid jaw chattering ordinarily reserved for moths spotted in the yard.

Soon things began to happen. Inexplicable things. The neighbor's dog was found immobilized, trussed-up with some indeterminate golden binding, a warning sign scrawled above him, "Do not crosses the THREE." A heretofore undiscovered hotspring bubbled up from beneath our yard and now transverses our property. Our clothes began to emerge from the dryer already pressed and folded, and the vet's office mysteriously called to confirm we had intended to cancel their next appointments. But we had not.

His review of "canned unicorn meat" is similarly amazing, including a spot-on Harry Potter reference.

13. He Broke the Star Trek/Star Wars Barrier

In 2009, Takei voiced a character for the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This marked the first time a Trek series regular had appeared in the Star Wars universe. This unique position led to him to call for "Star Peace" in a YouTube video:

He stepped up the Star Peace effort by pulling an April Fools' prank in 2013, posting a photo of himself as a Jedi (complete with robe and lightsaber!) and writing:

Friends, I am thrilled to announce that I'll be starring in the Star Wars reboot directed by JJ Abrams. I'll be playing Master Ceti Maru, a member of the Jedi High Council. The new film, entitled "Star Wars: Galactic Empire," is greenlit and will begin filming sometime early next year. It is truly a moment for The Star Alliance. Thanks to all my fans for their decades of support.

Alas, this was just a joke. But, wow, I'd watch that.

14. He Hosts a YouTube Show for the Over-50 Set

Although Takei's Facebook and Twitter streams are his main online outlets, he also hosts a YouTube show called Takei's Take, explaining technology. The show is sponsored by AARP. In the episode below, Takei explains online dating. "Oh my!"

15. He's a Supporter of "Takei Marriage"

After the Tennessee legislature brought up a bill that would prohibit teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom, Takei took action. The bill was popularly known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, and Takei suggested that instead of saying "gay," people could simply use the word "Takei" instead. Here's his public service announcement explaining the situation:

The Tennessee bill failed to pass, then returned in 2013...and failed again.

16. He's a Captain Now

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, we learned that Mr. Sulu had become Captain Sulu. Yes, he commanded the USS Excelsior, the first Star Trek ship with a transwarp drive. Here's to you, Captain Sulu!

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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