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19 Things You Might Not Know About My So-Called Life

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A look back at the year Claire Danes and Jared Leto spent at Liberty High School.

1. Alicia Silverstone almost played Angela Chase.

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While Claire Danes ended up playing Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, then-unknown Alicia Silverstone was considered for the role. The 16-year-old Silverstone was ultimately declared "too pretty" to play such a confused character by series co-executive producer Marshall Herskovitz, and 13-year-old Danes—who better fit the awkward teenager role—was chosen instead. Silverstone would get her breakout role later, in the form of Clueless's Cher Horowitz.

2. And so did A.J. Langer.

Silverstone wasn't Danes' only competition for the role of Angela Chase. A.J. Langer also auditioned for the part before Danes landed the role. Instead, Langer got the role of Rayanne Graff, a troubled teen and Angela’s new best friend.

3. Rickie Vasquez was the first openly gay teenager on American network TV.

Wilson Cruz played the character of Enrique “Rickie” Vasquez, a troubled teen, on My So-Called Life. Although there were gay characters on TV before 1994 (Billy Crystal played the 20-something gay son Jodie Dallas on Soap back in 1977), Rickie Vasquez was the first openly gay teenage character on American network TV.

4. Jared Leto almost turned down the role of Jordan Catalano.

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Jordan Catalano was only supposed to appear in the pilot episode. "But as soon as we got Jared on film, we knew he had to be a continuing character," series creator Winnie Holzman said. Leto was also very hesitant to take the role because he was less interested in acting at the time and was flirting with the idea of going to art school instead. "I remember not being positive that he wanted to do it," Holzman said. "I was a little worried that he didn’t want the part that much. He seemed to have ambivalent feelings. Maybe I am projecting.”

5. Where’s Tino?

During the entire series run, the character of Tino was mentioned, but never seen.

6. The Show Filmed at a Real High School.

The Pittsburgh-based Liberty High School is fictional. My So-Called Life was shot on location at University High School in Los Angeles. Filming took place during the school year, so students, teachers, and classes had to be shifted to other parts of the school that weren’t being used for production. The school was also used in 7th Heaven, Joan of Arcadia, and Arrested Development.

7. Series Creator Winnie Holzman has a cameo.

She played teacher Mrs. Krzyzanowski in the episode “Father Figures.” Holzman only appeared in one episode during the series run.

8. Jared Leto's Brother Also had a Role on the Show.

Jared Leto’s older brother Shannon appeared on My So-Called Life as Jordan Catalano’s bandmate (Frozen Embryo’s drummer) Shane. A few years later, in 1998, the brothers started the real-life rock band 30 Seconds To Mars. Jared Leto is the band's lead singer/guitarist and Shannon Leto plays drums.

9. Bess Armstrong had an Interesting Nickname.

Bess Armstrong, who played Angela’s mother Patty Chase, was nicknamed “Precious Poodle” while filming My So-Called Life. Actress Mary Kay Place, who played Sharon’s mother Camille Cherski, gave her the nickname.

10. Only two episodes don't have an Angela Chase Voiceover.

Angela Chase provides the voiceover in all the episodes except two: “Weekend,” which Danielle Chase narrated, and “Life of Brian,” which Brian Krakow narrated. Todd Holland directed both episodes.

11. My So-Called Life Faced Stiff Competition.

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Though it was critically acclaimed, My So-Called Life had a difficult time finding new viewers thanks to its highly competitive time slot: The show aired on Thursday nights at 8PM EST against Mad About You and Friends on NBC and Martin and Living Single on Fox.

12. It aired on MTV.

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Before ABC officially canceled My So-Called Life in 1995, episodes aired during MTV’s Buzz Bin programming block—which usually featured music videos from up-and-coming alternative bands of the mid-'90s—in an attempt to build an audience for the struggling teen drama.

13. Fans Tried to Save the Show.

In 1995, Operation Life Support was a short-lived fan campaign to save My So-Called Life when it was on the verge of cancellation—the first online fan campaign undertaken to save a beloved TV show. Fans sent ABC thousands of letters that pleaded with network executives to renew the show for a second season and posted on AOL in an attempt to revive the teen drama from cancellation.

Ultimately, ABC canceled My So-Called Life after one 19-episode season due to its very low ratings and Danes’ reluctance to reprise her role as Angela Chase for another year. She would later co-star with Leonard DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

14. Danes won a Golden Globe.

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In 1994, when she was just 15, Danes won a Golden Globe for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for playing Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, beating out Jane Seymour, Heather Locklear, and Angela Lansbury. Danes would later win two more Golden Globe Awards in 2011 and 2012 for playing Carrie Mathison on Showtime’s Homeland.

15. And Danes Wasn't the Only Award Winner Among the Cast.

In 1995, My So-Called Life won three Youth In Film Awards for Best New Family Television Series and Best Performance by a Youth Ensemble in a Television Series. Lisa Wilhoit, who played Danielle Chase, tied with Earth 2’s J. Madison Wright for the Best Performance by a Youth Actress in a Drama Series award. Devon Gummersall, who played Brian Krakow, was nominated for Best Performance by a Youth Actor in a Drama Series, but lost to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’s Shawn Toovey.

16. There was a follow-up book.

In 1999, a novelization titled My So-Called Life Goes On continued the story of Angela Chase and her friends. Author Catherine Clark wrote the book, which goes for upwards of $100 on Amazon.com.

17. Graham Chase Was a Great Dad—According to TIME.

Tom Irwin’s Graham Chase was named one of TV Guide’s Top 50 TV Dads of All Time. The list also included the likes of Philip Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, and Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

18. The Show is Referenced in Juno.

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In 2007, screenwriter Diablo Cody referenced My So-Called Life in her Academy Award winning movie Juno. The character of Paulie Bleeker, played by Michael Cera, makes a comment about getting the band back together and Juno MacGuff replies, “Once Tino gets a new drumhead, we're just like ready to rock.”

19. The Ataris were influenced by the show.

Indiana Pop Punk/Emo band The Ataris wrote a song called “My So-Called Life.” The song chronicles The Ataris’ singer/songwriter Kristopher Roe’s obsession with Claire Danes.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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