Original image

25 Things You Might Not Know About Brain Candy

Original image

In 1996, the movie Brain Candy by The Kids in the Hall based its comedy on the funniest topic the Kids could think of: depression. In the movie, doctors devise a new antidepressant drug that locks the patient into his or her happiest moment, reliving it over and over. Unfortunately, the drug is rushed to market, and severe side effects become apparent only after the world is hooked on the drug.

While Brain Candy is a cult classic (and a huge favorite of mine), sadly it lost a bunch of money. It marked the beginning of a four-year hiatus (read: breakup) for The Kids in the Hall. Here's some trivia you can enjoy before dunking the drug.

1. It Was Supposed to Be Called "The Drug"

Brain Candy's working title was The Drug, but Paramount executives nixed it. Apparently Paramount doesn't share an ad team with Roritor Pharmaceuticals.

2. Cancer Boy's Marrow is Low

Paramount executives fought hard to have Cancer Boy removed from the film, but lost that battle. The Kids insisted that he remain, and that his song "Whistle When You're Low" remain as well. Maybe there's hope for him after all. Years later, Bruce McCulloch recalled:

Cancer Boy was, arguably, what kind of financially killed Brain Candy. I love Cancer Boy more than anybody. I was tired of the way that little kids with cancer were used by celebrities for photo ops. If the kid goes into remission, does Wayne Gretzky still visit him? It was about how cheery a sick little kid could be, and he was worried about everyone else around him. And, of course, that pissed off a lot of people, even though it was only a cameo.

Mark McKinney commented on the group's thought process:

[Cancer Boy] wasn't an issue for us, but it was for the powers-that-be, the heads of the studio, who wanted it out and then didn't understand why the neophyte comedy troupe from Canada, with only cult appeal, was not listening to them. We thought, "Great, we won the battle, and they're not going to ignore a $7 million movie, are they?" But they kind of can.

Here's the scene:

3. The Queen Approves

Cancer Boy wasn't the only pre-existing Kids in the Hall character to appear in the film. Bigot Cabbie, White Trash Couple, Raj, Lacey, Melanie, Nina Bedford (aka Nina Spudkneeyak), The Queen, and the Police Department cops are all in there.

4. The Movie was Surrounded by Death

For a comedy, the movie is pretty dark, focusing on themes of depression, alienation, suicide, sexual repression, corporate greed, loneliness, you name it. This is partly explained by all the real-life darkness that descended on the troupe before shooting. Scott Thompson explained:

"In the period of a month, Dave’s marriage broke up, one of Kevin’s parents died and my brother committed suicide. I was pretty much in shock. My brother died literally a week before we started shooting. All those things conspired to make it a dark time."

In the film's end credits, the producers note the death of Thompson's brother. The dedication reads, "For Dean Thompson and all the Deans in the world."

Getty Images

5. Dave Foley is No Lady

Dave Foley is the only member of the troupe who didn't play a female character in the movie. He was starting his sitcom NewsRadio; perhaps drag wasn't seen as a wise idea for a primetime star.

6. Dave Foley Was Supposed to Play the Lead Role

Getty Images

Kevin McDonald wasn't originally slated to play the role of Dr. Chris Cooper; that part was supposed to go to Dave Foley. But creative tensions were so high (read: Foley didn't want to do it) that McDonald had to step into the lead. McDonald later recalled (emphasis added):

"I felt great pressure playing the lead. It took away what I do best, which is being silly around the main person. The only time you see me alive in the movie is when I play the dad killing himself."

"Ow, my other foot" indeed.

7. Mark McKinney Played the Most Roles

Getty Images

As is typical for KITH projects, everybody played a lot of roles—but Mark McKinney played nine. Scott Thompson clocked in at eight, Bruce McCulloch at seven, Kevin McDonald played four (one being the lead), and Dave Foley also played four (one being the "Just a guy" guy with three lines).

8. Kevin McDonald Played His Own Father

In the scene where Dr. Chris Cooper's father shoots himself offscreen, Kevin McDonald plays Cooper's father. "Young Chris Cooper" is played by Jason Barr, an Ontario native who went on to work on The Howie Mandel Show and Sailor Moon. Here's the scene:

9. Dave Foley Quit

Dave Foley is the only member of the troupe who didn't receive a writing credit on the film—because he quit the group in the middle of writing to focus on his own TV and film efforts. Longtime KITH TV writer Norm Hiscock is the only non-Kid receive a writing credit, and went on to write for King of the Hill and Parks and Rec, among others.

10. GLeeMONEX Has a Fake "Real" Name

GLeeMONEX, the drug featured in the movie, has a pseudo-scientific name: Duoroflouriximinimum 602. This is briefly visible when The Queen declares the drug "approved."

11. Don Roritor Was Based on The Kids' Boss

Don Roritor, the head of the pharmaceutical firm in the film, has a characteristic speech pattern. It's based on Lorne Michaels, the group's producer and creator of Saturday Night Live. Michaels has also inspired other film characters, including Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

12. Roger Ebert Hated It

Roger Ebert called Brain Candy "awful, dreadful, terrible, stupid, idiotic, unfunny, labored, forced, painful, bad." He claimed he "didn't laugh once," and openly fought Gene Siskel on the air. Here's their video review:

13. ...But Gene Siskel Loved It

And conveniently, marketing for video store owners quoted only Siskel's portion of the review in their bizarre marketing video. Seriously, look at this crazy promo video trying to sell VHS tapes to video stores.

14. The Soundtrack Ruled

The Brain Candy soundtrack is a surprisingly impressive catalogue of 90s indie rock. It includes tracks from Pavement, Liz Phair, They Might Be Giants, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Matthew Sweet, Cibo Matto, and Stereolab, among others. Tragically, it's missing Cancer Boy's "Whistle When You're Low."

15. It Had a Very Different Ending

The movie had a dramatically different ending in an early cut. Floating around in collectors' circles, this alternate version of the film has entire characters and subplots that were removed from the final version. Here's a look at that ending, in super-crappy quality. Note that there are f-bombs in here:

16. The "Alternate Cut" Was Pretty Rough

As a huge fan of the movie in the '90s, I had (and have) one of those VHS dubs of the original cut. It just doesn't work as a movie, though. While the ending is arguably better, the rest of the film is crammed with goofy extra plot lines (including a major one involving terrorists). Here's a sample of the material that was removed:

17. They Cut Janeane Garofalo's Role

Janeane Garofalo had a role in Brain Candy, and she's in the alternate cut. But she didn't make the final cut—which is surprising given that she was a pretty big deal in 1996.

18. The Film's Director Was a TV Guy

Brain Candy director Kelly Makin mostly directed TV shows (including many segments on Kids in the Hall), though he also directed the films movies National Lampoon's Senior Trip and Mickey Blue Eyes.

19. "The Drug is Ready" is a Song Lyric

As Dr. Cooper takes an elevator to meet with the top brass at Roritor, the elevator music is "Butts Wigglin" by The Tragically Hip. That song features the lyrics "In my opinion, the drug is ready," which is what Cooper ends up telling his boss during the meeting. (Later, Dr. Cooper is asked to "wiggle those hips" on a talk show.) You can hear the whole song here:

20. Brendan Fraser Has a Cameo

Toronto actor Brendan Fraser has a brief cameo as a test subject convinced he's getting sugar pills instead of the drug, due to his severe acne. He's also visible running out of the Depression Project holding a lab rat cage, almost precisely one hour into the film. He does not appear in the film's credits.

21. The Trailer is Full of Deleted Scenes

If you take a careful look at this trailer, you'll notice it includes a bunch of material that wasn't in the final cut of the movie. We see the deleted Dave Foley terrorist character (when Foley is introduced), Don Roritor enjoying extra pepper, and plenty of extra stuff from the White Trash Couple. Watch and spot the differences:

22. Kevin McDonald's Acting is Modeled on Young Frankenstein

In an interview with The A.V. Club in 2004, Kevin McDonald recalled how he prepared to play Dr. Chris Cooper:

[Playing the part] was really hard for me, because I didn't see it as a funny part. As we had time to rewrite it, I sort of found the comedy in it. I rented Young Frankenstein and I saw Gene Wilder playing the straight part, but getting a lot of laughs reacting to everyone else. That's how I decided to play it, as a modern Young Frankenstein. And we have similar hair.

23. "Chris Cooper" Was KITH's Longtime Editor

The lead in the film, Dr. Chris Cooper, was named in honor of Christopher Cooper, who edited tons of KITH projects—including the TV show, Dog Park, Brain Candy, you name it.

24. Wally's License Plate Is Revealing

Wally, the repressed gay dad (who's remarkably similar to KITH's TV character Danny Husk) has a license plate reading GAY IAM. It's only visible for an instant as he marches out into his suburban street to lead the "I'm Gay!" musical parade.

25. Tool Actually Covers "Some Days It's Dark"

The fictional ultra-dark song by Grivo's band "Death Lurks" performed in Brain Candy has made its way into the real world of dark music. Tool covers it live, with more or less the same absurd lyrics. Here are the lyrics and an audio recording from a Tool concert in Ontario, 2007:

Some days it's dark. / Some days I work. / I work alone. / I walk alone.... / I know....

Sweetness / bring me / laughter / or not.

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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image

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]