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12 Things We Just Learned About Buffy 

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Last night, The Chosen One took to Reddit to answer fan questions about her new show, The Crazy Ones, and, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Here are a few things we learned from Sarah Michelle Gellar's AMA.

1. Her first scene in “The Body” was all one take.

In the Season Five episode “The Body,” Buffy arrives home to find that her mother has died. It’s one of her favorite episodes, Gellar says, because “it was beyond difficult and heart wrenching to shoot, and I don't know if many people know this, but my entire first scene was all done in one take. It was 4-5 minutes of one long take.” 

2. Her other favorite episodes are “Hush,” “The Prom,” and "Who Are You."

Gellar says her first favorite is Season Three episode "The Prom," in which her vampire boyfriend Angel decides to leave town, but comes to Sunnydale High's prom for one last dance. "I just love that whole story, and I thought it just encapsulated the show so well," she said. "It was beautiful and heartbreaking." Another favorite: Season Four's nearly dialogue-free "Hush," which Gellar loves because "I think it's not just the scariest episode we've ever done but the challenge to do a silent episode—I thought it would be easy but it was way harder," she said. Later, she mentioned that Season Four's "Who Are You" was among her favorite episodes: "I also liked the body switching episode where I got to play Faith and Faith got to play Buffy." 

3. If she could make a Buffy-themed alcoholic beverage, she’d call it “Fruit Punch Mouth.”

 It would be made of “a red punch with rum.” 

4. When it comes to Spike or Angel, she picks…

Sorry, Spike fans. Despite Buffy's romance with Spike in later seasons, Gellar was emphatic on this point. “ANGEL.” And later, when someone asked again: "Still Angel."

5. She had a number of favorite “Big Bads.”

Each season of Buffy had at least one major villain, or "Big Bad." Gellar, of course, has her favorites. "When Angel turned bad. Physically I think the scariest were the guys from 'Hush,'" she said. "And also Camden Toy, I can't think of his character's name right now." (Toy played a number of characters, including one of the Gentlemen in "Hush," the demon Gnarl in "Same Time, Same Place," and one of the "Ubervamps," Turok-Han, in the show's final season.) "And I also liked it when I was the bad guy." 

6. Alyson Hannigan played pranks on the Buffy cast.

Gellar loved working with Alyson Hannigan, who played Willow, and mentioned that the actress was very funny—in fact, she played a lot of pranks on set. But SMG never got pranked: “No I think I was more her co-conspirator.” 

7. She’d approve of Buffy on Broadway…

With one condition: “As long as Kristin Chenoweth plays me...”

8. She has some fun props from the show.

In addition to some of Buffy's clothes, Gellar has a few trinkets that her makeup artist made for her. “I think my favorite is that my makeup artist had made a special stake for me with a little bottle of holy water," she said, "and to this day I keep it by my bed.”

9. Empowerment was Buffy's best message.

And not just for the ladies. "I think for me the greatest message of Buffy was all about female empowerment, and not just female, but empowerment in general," Gellar said. "High school is the scariest part of people's lives, and I loved that we used the monsters of Buffy as a metaphor for the monsters of life. And to not judge a book by its cover. That we are all capable of taking care of ourselves."

10. David Boreanaz smells good.

Buffy fans wanted to know, and Gellar was happy to answer. "I can say that David honestly smells very good and continues to smell very good," she said. "I apologize to Jamie his wife for answering that question." 

11. She reads Buffy fanfic.

"It's pretty incredible," she said. "And it's really moving when people take the time to do that kind of thing."

12. Gellar knows what Buffy would do if all the evil on the Earth disappeared.

"She could be a counselor and go back to working at Sunnydale High? And I'm terrible at slinging burgers, so I wouldn't go back to that. Plus that AWFUL hat they made her wear."

For more—including what Gellar would do if she woke up and Bruce Willis was somehow there—head over and read the rest of her AMA.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]