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20 Things You Might Not Know About Office Space

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When Office Space premiered in theaters on February 19, 1999, it was hard to imagine that Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill creator Mike Judge’s first attempt at writing and directing live action would become the oft-quoted classic it did. When it made around $12.9 million at the box office, it continued to be an unlikely candidate to become a pop cultural cornerstone that would literally change restaurant chains and stapler designs. Repeated appearances on cable television and a successful life on DVD made Office Space the phenomenon that it is.

1. IT ORIGINATED WITH ANIMATED SHORTS THAT RAN ON MTV AND SNL.

Milton was a series of shorts Mike Judge created, wrote, animated, and voiced. It starred Milton Waddams, presumably when he was still technically working for Initech, and an early version of Lumbergh. The first episode (shown above) aired on MTV’s Liquid Television in 1991, alongside some other Judge shorts like The Honky Problem and Huh?. During the 1993-94 season of SNL, Milton made three more appearances.

2. THE MOVIE WAS MADE DUE TO THE SUCCESS OF THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.

20th Century Fox wanted a new “big, broad comedy” after the success of the Farrelly Brothers movie, and figured that the Milton shorts had the potential to become one. Judge initially didn’t think it was a good idea, but eventually got on board.

3. THERE WAS A SPECIFIC JOB MIKE JUDGE HAD THAT INFLUENCED HIS WRITING.

The former engineer alphabetized purchase orders for 2-3 weeks, for eight hours a day, which he described as “god-awful.” The fact that he couldn’t daydream nor talk to someone without losing his place in the alphabet made it distinctly bad.

4. MIKE JUDGE SPOKE AS BUTT-HEAD AND BOOMHAUER ON SET.

Judge voiced those characters on Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill, so it wasn’t particularly difficult for him to appease some crew members who insisted on the impersonations.

5. MICHAEL BOLTON LEARNED TO BE AT PEACE WITH BEING CALLED A "NO-TALENT ASS CLOWN."

The singer came off as annoyed in a 2003 article where he said, “I was doing fine. Then they made this movie, and I can’t go anywhere!” Ten years later, he admitted that the movie is funny and willingly signs Office Space DVDs for fans.

6. THE STUDIO WANTED THE CHARACTERS TO BE CHIPPIER.

Judge remembered the executives giving him notes that generally said to make the movie less low-key. Watching dailes of Lumbergh’s “mmm… yeaaaaah” allegedly drove some executives “crazy.”

7. THEY ALSO DIDN’T LIKE THE MOSTLY ALL HIP-HOP SOUNDTRACK.

Focus groups changed 20th Century Fox’s mind about the inclusion of artists like Ice Cube, Scarface, and, of course the Geto Boys, whose songs “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta” and “Still” serve as the official soundtrack to printer beatdowns everywhere since 1999.

8. DIEDRICH BADER HAD A CLEAR IDEA ON WHAT LAWRENCE SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

The actor who played Oswald Lee Harvey on The Drew Carey Show as well as Peter Gibbons’ nosy neighbor Lawrence wanted to look like “somebody who loved the Allman Brothers.” Mission accomplished.

9. JOHN C. MCGINLEY ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED TO PLAY LUMBERGH.

That role went to Gary Cole, but as a nice consolation prize, Dr. Cox from Scrubs played Bob Slydell, a.k.a. the taller, mustachioed Bob.

10. TPS ACTUALLY STANDS FOR SOMETHING.

At the 10th anniversary screening, Judge revealed that Peter had to fill out Test Program Set reports. The reference dates back to his engineering days.

11. IT’S BEEN COMPARED TO A HERMAN MELVILLE SHORT STORY.

The protagonist in the 1853 short story Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street hand-copies legal documents until he starts responding to every request by his boss with the phrase, “I would prefer not to,” and refuses to do anything, including leave his desk or eat. The similarity between Melville’s plot and the movie wasn’t lost on movie critics, bloggers, or high school teachers.

12. IT’S MEANT TO BE SET IN "ANYWHERE, U.S.A."

Office Space was shot in Las Colinas and Austin, Texas, but the cars had custom-made “USA” license plates on them. Lumbergh's read, ”MY PRSHE.”

13. ACCOUNTANTS WERE THE FIRST PEOPLE TO QUOTE THE MOVIE.

Judge figured that the studio executives he was talking to throughout production couldn’t relate to the boring, soul destroying jobs Office Space was portraying, but he still had doubts that his brainchild would resonate with audiences. He first felt optimism when he heard that the accountants in the post-production department were referencing the movie before it even came out.

14. IT INSPIRED T.G.I. FRIDAY’S TO STOP IT WITH THE FLAIR.

As you surely remember, Jennifer Aniston’s character, Joanna, grew increasingly disengaged with her server job at T.G.I. Friday’s stand-in Chotchkie's because she could never seem to wear enough buttons, or “flair,” on her uniform to appease her superiors and counterparts. In real life, TGI Friday’s noticeably phased out the flair by 2005. Judge revealed last year that one of his assistant directors asked a Friday’s employee—without revealing his or her affiliations—about the absence, and was told that they “removed it because of that movie Office Space.

15. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED BRIAN, THE FLAIR-LOVING CHOTCHKIE’S WAITER, SUED THE STUDIO.

A special edition DVD called The Office Space Box of Flair included the 32-page book, The Office Space Guide to Flair, and 15 buttons (15 being the minimum number of flair a Chotchkie’s server must wear). Todd Duffey wanted to be financially compensated for his face appearing on the cover of a book and on one of the buttons, but the false endorsement violation claim lawsuit was dismissed.

16. MIKE JUDGE PLAYED JOANNA’S CHOTCHKIE’S BOSS, STAN.

He wore a wig, a moustache, and glasses to make it a pretty good disguise. The role is credited to a “William King.”

17. THE RESTAURANT WHERE THE CHOTCHKIE’S SCENES WERE FILMED CLOSED IN 2009.

R.I.P. The Alligator Grille in Austin, Texas.

18. SWINGLINE MADE RED STAPLERS THREE YEARS AFTER THE MOVIE CAME OUT.

Milton’s precious office item needed to pop on screen, so a prop designer painted a Swingline stapler red. After potential customers called and e-mailed the company asking for a Milton stapler that didn’t exist, some enterprising folks made a profit making and selling red staplers on eBay. In April 2002, the company finally offered a “Rio Red” model.

19. OFFICE SPACE INSPIRED PEOPLE TO QUIT THEIR JOBS.

People that were unhappy at the jobs they felt no passion for have told Judge and Ron Livingston, the actor who played Peter, that they quit after watching the movie.

20. MIKE JUDGE DOESN’T LIKE THE ENDING.

He realized that the entire third act should be re-written a little too late in the process—after the final test screening.

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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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