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25 Future Stars Who Appeared on Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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A number of future celebrities stopped by Are You Afraid of the Dark? over its seven-season run—first from 1992 to 1996, and then again from 1999 to 2000 as part of Nickelodeon's SNICK lineup. Some were members of the Midnight Society, and some were merely there to help bring the creepy campfire tales to life. Here they are, submitted for the approval of mental_flossers.

1. Ryan Gosling // Season 5, Episode 3

Fresh off his stint in The Mickey Mouse Club—and well before he was Young Hercules—Gosling appeared in the 1995 episode “The Tale of Station 109.1.” He played Jamie Leary, a t-shirt and flannel-wearing kid whose younger brother, Chris, is obsessed with death. To break him of his morbid obsession, Jamie locks Chris in a hearse, cautioning him to "keep it down, or you'll wake the dead!" before he leaves him there. (Nice brother!) Comedian Gilbert Gottfried also appears in this episode as a DJ at the titular radio station.

2. Neve Campbell // Season 3, Episode 13

Future Scream queen Neve Campbell played Nonnie Walker in the 1993 episode “The Tale of the Dangerous Soup,” in which recurring villain Dr. Vink makes a dish that requires a very special ingredient: his employees’ fear.

3. and 4. Emmanuelle Chriqui and Elisha Cuthbert // Season 5, Episode 12

Future Entourage star Emmanuelle Chriqui had just five roles to her resume when she played Amanda, a teenage hospital volunteer who has to contend with a shape-shifting vampire, in “The Tale of the Night Shift.” 

Happy Endings and 24 star Elisha Cuthbert had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her part in that episode, too. Series co-creator D.J. MacHale directed her in the episode, although he didn’t remember it. “There’s one scene where a nurse walks out of the room [in the hospital where a shape-shifting vampire was shacking up] and sees a little girl [who had shape-shifted from said vampire] whom she follows,” MacHale said. “And that little girl was Elisha Cuthbert. For all I know, that was the first time she was ever on camera, so that was kind of cool!” It was, in fact, Cuthbert’s first on-screen role; later, she would return to the series during its second run as Megan, a member of the Midnight Society.

5. Mia Kirshner // Season 1, Episode 5

Before she starred in The Crow: City of Angels, Not Another Teen Movie, and The L Word, Mia Kirshner appeared in the 1991 episode “The Tale of the Hungry Hounds.” Kirshner played Pam Pease, a teenager who discovers her dead Aunt Dora’s horse riding jacket in a trunk in the attic … and promptly becomes possessed with Dora’s spirit.

Despite the fact that the show always begins with a campfire, this was the only episode to show a kid striking a match. “[Nickelodeon] didn’t want to teach kids how to strike matches,” MacHale told Splitsider. “They were afraid someone would burn their house down or something like that. So the campfire was always already lit when [the Midnight Society] showed up. There was one episode where someone did light a match when it slipped by Standards and Practices in an episode I directed. Mia Kirshner was the star in that episode, and in that scene, she had to light a lantern, and she didn’t know how to light a match! We practically had to fake it because she was like, ‘I’ve never done this before!’ Which I guess maybe gives credibility to Nickelodeon’s theory that we didn’t want to teach kids how to light a match.”

6. Daniel DeSanto

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You probably recognize him as Gretchen Weiner’s kinda-sorta-boyfriend in Mean Girls, but before that, DeSanto was providing the voice of Carlos Ramon on the cartoon The Magic Schoolbus and playing Tucker, a Midnight Society member, on 65 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from 1992 to 2000.

7. Eugene Byrd // Season 1, Episode 6

Shortly after he played Eugene on The Cosby Show, Byrd booked the role of practical-joke loving Weeds in a 1992 episode, “The Tale of the Super Specs.” He buys his girlfriend, Mary Beth, a pair of weird glasses that allow her to see terrifying black-clothed beings from another dimension (who are even into playing creepy games of basketball!). Spoiler alert: The episode does not have a happy ending for Weeds and Mary Beth. Byrd would go on to star in shows like Ghostwriter, Bones, DaybreakCrossing Jordan, and True Blood.

8. Joanna Garcia

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Garcia had a few small roles on other series before she played Sam, one of the members of the Midnight Society, starting in the show’s third season. She later appeared in Party of Five and Freaks and Geeks and starred on the TV series Reba. More recently, she played Ariel on the ABC show Once Upon a Time.

9. Jay Baruchel

The Knocked Up and Sorcerer’s Apprentice actor appeared in a few episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, including Season 6's "The Tale of the Zombie Dice” and "The Tale of the Walking Shadow,” and the Season 7 episode “The Tale of the Time Trap.” He made his first appearance in Season 5’s “The Tale of Dead Man's Float” (above), playing a little kid who, in 1954, gets attacked by a ghost in a pool (which was, naturally, built over a graveyard). When the pool is reopened in the present day, things don’t go so well.

10. Hayden Christensen // Season 6, Episode 13

Before he was Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen played Kirk in the 1999 episode “The Tale of Bigfoot Ridge.” The episode involved snowboarding, some excellent ‘90s music, the search for a missing friend, and a ghost that kidnaps people.

11. Eddie Kaye Thomas // Season 3, Episode 9

Future American Pie star Eddie Kaye Thomas had his first-ever screen role in Are You Afraid of the Dark? in the 1994 episode “The Tale of the Curious Camera.” He played Matt, a kid that nobody notices—unless they’re bullying him. When he fails to show up in his basketball team portrait, the photographer gives him an antique camera. But it’s no ordinary camera: Bad things seem to happen to anything Matt takes a picture of. It’s all fun and games when it’s a picture of the wall or a bully at school—less so after Matt accidentally snaps a photo of his parents. (This is probably an homage to the Twilight Zone episode “A Most Unusual Camera.”)

12. Colin Ferguson // Season 5, Episode 7

This actor, who starred on the SyFy series Eureka, got his start on Are You Afraid of the Dark?. In “The Tale of C7" Ferguson plays Tommy, one of the spirits summoned from a nearby lake by an old jukebox.

13. Rachel Blanchard

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Blanchard had a few roles under her belt when she played Kristen, a member of the Midnight Society, on 26 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? from 1990 to 1993. Later, she played Cher in the TV version of Clueless, had a guest-starring role on 7th Heaven, and, most recently, appeared in the TV series Fargo.

14. Aaron Ashmore

Now best known for playing Jimmy Olsen on Smallville and Steve Jinks in Warehouse 13, Aaron Ashmore had just one screen credit to his name when he played Billy in the 1993 episode “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor.” In 2000, he appeared on the show again, this time playing Jake in “The Tale of the Lunar Locusts.” The episode starred figure skater Tara Lipinski, who played an alien named Ellen, and dealt with alien babies buried beneath a school football field.

15. Jewel Staite

Firefly and Serenity star Jewel Staite appeared on two episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?. In the Season 3 episode “The Tale of Watcher’s Woods” (above), she played Kelly, a sorta-snooty summer camp attendee who gets lost in a dark and dangerous woods. Then, in Season 4, she got to rock the truly '90s fashion combo of turtleneck and strong-shouldered blazer as Cody in “The Tale of the Unfinished Painting.”

16. Christopher Heyerdahl

Now known for his roles on Hell on Wheels, Caprica, and True Blood, and for playing Marcus in the Twilight series, Christopher Heyerdahl had just one screen credit to his name when he appeared on Are You Afraid of the Dark? in two Season 2 episodes. First, he played Nosferatu in “The Tale of the Midnight Madness” (above), and, just two episodes later, played Leonid in “The Tale of the Thirteenth Floor.”

17. Charlie Hofheimer

The man who would play Peggy Olsen’s boyfriend Abe Drexler on Mad Men appeared in two episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? in the mid-’90s: “The Tale of the Water Demons” (above) in Season 4—he played Dean Wilson, the cousin of the bad boy main character—and Season 5’s “The Tale of the Unexpected Visitor,” in which we learn a very valuable lesson: Never hack into the satellites your dad is using for deep space research. Not even to get "World War Four: Their Finest Hour" for free.

18. Gregory Smith // Season 4, Episode 13

Future Everwood star Gregory Smith played train-obsessed Tim Williamson in “The Tale of Train Magic.” When a ghostly conductor gives Tim a new car for his train set, Tim is transported onto train 713 ... which had actually crashed years earlier, killing everyone on board.

19. Christopher Redman

Yet another actor who appeared on multiple episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Christopher Redman played Mike Carter, big brother to a truly awful little kid who steals the money for their mom's birthday gift and buys a Nintendo game, in the Season 3 episode “The Tale of the Crimson Clown” (above) and, in Season 4, played Simon Lewis in “The Tale of the Renegade Virus.” He would go on to have roles in StarGate: SG1, Touching Evil, and Saved. He also played Michael Travers in 25 episodes of CSI: Miami.

20. and 21. A.J. Buckley and Ted Whittall // Season 5, Episode 8

After he appeared as camp counselor Lonnie in the 1995 episode “The Tale of Manaha”—which featured monsters hungry for human flesh!—A.J. Buckley played Adam Ross on CSI: New York, Ed Zeddmore in Supernatural, and Danny Crowe in Justified. And in just his second-ever role, Ted Whittall—who has since appeared on The L Word, Smallville, Once Upon a Time, and Beauty and the Beast—played an unnamed Park Ranger.

22. Kyle Downes

Now best known as Lizzy McGuire’s Larry Tudgeman, Kyle Downes appeared in two Season 6 episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, playing two different characters. In “The Tale of the Forever Game,” he played Nathaniel, a guy trapped in a tree until he can win a Jumanji-esque board game, and in “The Tale of Vampire Town,” he played vampire slayer Adder Carballo.

23. Vanessa Lengies

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The American Dreams, Stick It!, and Glee actress became a member of the Midnight Society in 1999, playing Vange on the show's final two seasons.

24. Laura Vandervoot // Season 7, Episode 11

After she played Ashley Fox in the 2000 episode “The Tale of the Laser Maze”—which involves laser tag, karate, and clones—Laura Vandervoot appeared in Instant Star, had a role in Ted, and played Supergirl on Smallville.

25. Emily VanCamp // Season 7, Episodes 1, 2, and 3

The future Everwood and Revenge star played Peggy Gregory in final season's three-part opener The Tale of the Silver Sight. It was her first-ever on-screen role.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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