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20 Fun Facts About The Cosby Show

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Bill Cosby was not pleased with the so-called “family” sitcoms he saw on TV in the early 1980s. The kids seemed to be in charge of the household and tiny 6-year-olds were smart-mouthing their parents without suffering any repercussions. Cosby sketched out a show where the kids were certainly intelligent, but their parents were always smarter and—most importantly—in charge. The Cosby Show debuted on September 20, 1984, and America went on to spend eight memorable seasons with the Huxtables.

1. Huxtable: Limousine Driver?

In Bill Cosby’s original pitch, he played a limousine driver, and Clair was a union plumber. Camille Cosby told her husband that she thought the TV couple should be more representative of their own family—two white-collar professional parents. When executive producer Marcy Carsey sided with Camille, Cosby capitulated and made the patriarch a doctor and Clair an attorney.

2. “Mira que tiene cosa la mujer esta…”

Another one of Cosby’s early visions of the show was for Clair to be Dominican, and to have her revert to her native Spanish whenever she was frustrated. He pictured it as a reverse I Love Lucy scenario, where the audience always knew when Ricky Ricardo had reached his limit because he’d burst into a Spanish-language tirade.

3. Phylicia Rashad's Stare Helped Get Her the Role

Of all the actresses who auditioned for the role of Clair, Phylicia Rashad caught Cosby’s eye because of the way she argued with Theo during the screen test. Unlike the previous candidates, she didn’t wag her head and she didn’t place her hand on her hip. Instead, she simply stopped speaking and gave Theo a look—and her eyes said enough to frighten any child into submission. Cosby knew immediately that Phylicia was Clair.

4. Cosby Worried About The Studio Audience's Reaction To The Pilot

The Cosby Show's pilot was filmed in front of a live audience, and even though there were plenty of laughs where expected, Cosby was worried that the audience wasn’t embracing his overall vision of the series. In the scene where Theo is defending the “D” on his report card, he earnestly tells his dad, “If you weren't a doctor, I wouldn't love you less, because you're my dad. So rather than feeling disappointed because I'm not like you, maybe you should accept who I am and love me anyway, because I'm your son.”

What concerned Cosby about this scene was the spontaneous applause from the audience after Theo’s speech. Luckily the audience reacted even more enthusiastically when he replied with complete conviction, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

5. The Story Behind Those Sweaters

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Cliff Huxtable’s iconic sweaters were the work of Dutch fashion designer Koos Van Den Akker. Van Den Akker was asked by an customer of his in the early 1980s to make a unique sweater as a present for her friend, Bill Cosby. Cosby wore that sweater on camera while filming an episode of his show. Mail poured in as viewers wanted to know where they could buy a similar garment.

Cosby asked Van Den Akker to make more, and a legacy was born. The sweaters' designer described the process of creating each pullover as a “painting,” throwing various colors and patterns of fabric pieces together on a jersey/wool blend canvas. According to Van Den Akker, each design tread a “very thin line between absolutely awful and something of genius.”

6. There Were Originally Only Four Huxtable Children

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At one point in the pilot, Clair asks, "Why did we have four children?" He responds, "Because we didn't want five." Originally, Denise was the oldest of the offspring, followed by Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy. But once the series was poised to become a hit, Bill Cosby decided to add an additional older child—one who was away at college and was an example of successful parenting. Enter Princeton student Sondra, the eldest Huxtable child.

7. In Real Life, Sondra Couldn't Have Been Clair's Daughter

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Sabrina LeBeauf, the actress who played Sondra, is only 10 years younger than her TV mom. Sabrina won the role over such staunch competitors as Whitney Houston and future Miss America Suzette Charles. LeBeauf impressed Cosby partly because she had recently graduated from a prestigious university (Yale), just like the character he had in mind.

8. Italians Couldn't Pronounce "Huxtable"

The Cosby Show not only topped the ratings charts at home, it was also a hit internationally—albeit with some minor tweaks made for non-U.S. audiences. For example, in Italy, the surname “Huxtable” proved to be impossible to pronounce, so the family’s name was changed and the show was titled I Robinson ("The Robinsons") in Italy. Why “Robinson” instead of, say, Smith or Jones? The name was chosen in honor of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.

9. Rudy Was Almost Played By Urkel

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In Bill Cosby’s original vision, the Huxtables had two boys and two girls (this was before Sondra was added to the mix). The youngest child, Rudy, was originally supposed to be a younger brother who looked up to Theo. Eight-year-old Jaleel White (Family Matters’ future Urkel) had auditioned so strongly that his agent told his parents that they should start looking for apartments in New York, where The Cosby Show was filmed.

The producers still had a few more kids to consider, and one of those last-minute interviews was with four-year-old charmer Keshia Knight-Pulliam. Director Jay Sandrich recalled trying to talk to Keshia, asking her if she could remember lines, but she kept looking away from him. He finally asked her what was wrong. The story goes that she pointed to a monitor and said, “That’s me! How can you make me on the TV?” Immediately enchanted, Sandrich moved Keshia’s name to the top of the short list, and Theo became an only son surrounded by four sisters.

10. Theo Was Supposed to be Taller

The casting call for the role of Theo specified that he was 6'2" and 15 years old. Malcolm-Jamal Warner, however, was 13 and 5'5". Nevertheless, he landed an interview on the last day auditions were held. According to Warner, he read the Monopoly money scene with Cosby like a traditional TV brat—hand on hip, eyes rolled, a real smart-aleck. Everyone in the room was laughing ... except for Cosby. He asked the young actor if he'd act like that with his real father. With that advice in mind, Warner read for the part a second time and nailed it.

11. Vanessa's Early College Enrollment Was Written In So Tempestt Bledsoe Could Go To Actual College

Season 7 begins with a “back to school” episode where Cliff and Clair happily usher their brood out the door the morning after summer vacation ended. But why was Vanessa carrying a suitcase instead of a Trapper Keeper? It's revealed that Vanessa attended summer school so she could graduate a year early, and was now bound for Lincoln College in Pennsylvania. The sudden change in Vanessa’s story arc was due to Tempestt Bledsoe’s desire to get her degree, and Cosby’s determination to help her however possible.

After graduating from high school, Bledsoe told her boss that she’d enrolled at New York University but would be attending classes in the evenings and on weekends so it wouldn’t affect her work schedule. Cosby instead arranged the show’s shooting schedule so that Bledsoe could go to school full-time, which is why we only saw Vanessa sporadically throughout the season. Tempestt recalls that Cosby used to post her grades on his dressing room door.

12. Dr. Huxtable's Inaccurate Nameplate

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It is common for some elements of a series to differ from the pilot once it's picked up by a network. So it is understandable that in the Cosby pilot, the layout of the house is nothing like the 10 Stigwood Avenue we later see, and Theo is referred to as “Teddy.” But surely someone in the editing room should have noticed that the establishing exterior shot of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable’s office that was used several times throughout Season One still bore the pilot-engraved nameplate that read “Clifford Huxtable, M.D.”

13. Grandpa Huxtable Was A Very Accomplished Thespian

Russell Huxtable could always be relied upon to recite Shakespeare at length when sage advice was required. These scenes were tailored specifically for Earle Hyman, who played Cliff’s dad. From the age of 13, Hyman devoured classic literature and stage plays.He developed a particular fondness for the work of Henrik Ibsen, and Hyman eventually spent enough time in Norway (Ibsen’s home) to become fluent in Norwegian and was awarded the prestigious Medal of St. Olav for his stage work there.

14. He was also the voice of Panthro

There's your ThunderCats connection.

15. Some of Bill's TV Family Were Named After Real-Life Family Members

Bill Cosby incorporated many names from his own real-life family into his sitcom relatives. He married Camille Olivia Hanks in 1964. In the show, Clair Huxtable’s maiden name was “Hanks,” and Denise’s precocious stepdaughter was named Olivia. His mother’s name was Anna, just like his TV mom. His younger brother Russell lent his name to the Huxtable granddad.

16. Who Was the Real Gordon Gartrelle?

Even today, whenever Malcolm-Jamal Warner attends a formal event, there’s always one wise guy who will ask him if he’s wearing Gordon Gartrelle. Theo’s lopsided yellow satin shirt with the two-tone pockets has become indelibly entwined with garish, ill-fitting couture. The original garment recently got a nod in an episode of Suburgatory, when George and Noah were sifting through boxes of old clothes in the attic. (“Are you kidding me?! It’s a Gordon Gartrelle. Keep!”) The real Gordon G. Gartrelle, by the way, was a writer and producer on the Cosby series.

17. The Uncola Man Choreographed A Season Opener

The Cosby Show was famous for changing its opening credits sequence every season. Season Five’s opening is unique because it is the only time throughout the series’ run that the entire cast is shown dancing together. The music was performed by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, and the choreography was courtesy of Trinidadian-born actor, dancer, director and singer Geoffrey Holder. Many Baby Boomers remember Holder as the “Uncola Man” spokesman for 7-Up.

18. Nude Photos Helped Send Denise to Hillman College

Denise was the Wild Child among the Huxtables–she always wore the craziest fashions and dated boys her father couldn’t stand. Lisa Bonet sometimes tried Cosby’s patience even more than her character did, and she was often late for tapings or sometimes didn’t bother to show up at all.

The turning point for both actress and character came in 1986, when 19-year-old Bonet spent her hiatus co-starring in Angel Heart, a movie that had to edit many scenes in order to avoid an X rating. Topless photos of Bonet were being leaked to the media to promote the film, and Cosby had her much younger TV siblings to consider. Denise was the most popular Huxtable (according to the fan mail), so Cosby solved the problem by spinning her off into A Different World, a series set at Hillman College.

19. (Baby) Bumps in the Road

Bill Cosby didn't want to add infants to the series, so when Phylicia Rashad was pregnant during Season Three, extreme measures were used to conceal her burgeoning midsection. Clair was either conveniently away at a conference in Washington D.C. or confined to bed. This bed had a specially constructed mattress that was scooped out so her tummy wouldn’t make the covers protrude, and the contraption resulted in a pinched nerve in her back. The masquerade became downright bizarre, like in “Vanessa’s Rich,” when Clair is seated on the living room sofa with a giant teddy bear in front of her for no explained reason whatsoever.

And then Lisa Bonet, who had eloped with musician Lenny Kravitz on November 16, 1987, announced that she was with child early in 1988. A pregnant college freshman was not what the producers of A Different World had in mind, so Bonet was canned from that show and was rehired back on The Cosby Show for Season Five. Of course, she was outfitted in oversized jackets and loose-fitting wild-patterned shirts until Episode Five, where she conveniently was given permission by Cliff and Clair to accompany a photographer to Zaire for an extended assignment.

20. Peter's Horrible Stage Fright Caused His Awkwardness

As a rule, stage fright would put a kibosh on any child actor’s career, but Cosby decided to capitalize on it in the case of Peter Costa. Costa had trouble reciting his lines due to “red light fever” once the cameras started rolling. But Cosby cast him as Rudy’s playmate Peter who lived across the street. Peter rarely spoke to anyone, especially adults, but Rudy always “understood” him, much like regular kids do with the friends that confound their parents.

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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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