CLOSE
Original image
Netflix

22 Streaming Facts About House of Cards

Original image
Netflix

In the hit series House of Cards, cutthroat politician Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) makes sure he’s always at least one move ahead of his colleagues. As the show makes its return to Netflix for a fourth season, we’ve rounded up some little-known facts about the groundbreaking series that even Frank might be surprised to learn. 

1. IT’S BASED ON A BRITISH MINISERIES.

As original as it may seem, House of Cards is actually based on a 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name. The four-episode series, which was adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs, took place in the time period following Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. 

2. MICHAEL DOBBS KNOWS OF WHAT HE SPEAKS.

House of Cards author Michael Dobbs didn’t have to do a ton of research for his novel-turned-miniseries-turned-Netflix series. In addition to being a writer, Dobbs served as Thatcher’s chief of staff from 1986 to 1987 and the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party from 1994 to 1995. 

3. BEAU WILLIMON IS NO SLOUCH EITHER.

Getty Images

House of Cards creator Beau Willimon (who won't be returning as showrunner for the 2017 season) is no stranger to the inner-workings of our own nation’s capital. His resume includes stints working for a range of well-known political figures, including Charles SchumerHillary Clinton, and Howard Dean.

4. WILLIMON RECRUITED SOME ADDITIONAL HELP, TOO.

In order to help get the tone and political maneuvering just right—or, as he told Town & Country, “to make sure we didn't completely embarrass ourselves”—Willimon recruited his college buddy Jay Carson, a political advisor and strategist who has worked with Michael Bloomberg, Howard Dean, and Hillary and Bill Clinton, as the series’ political consultant. Carson also inspired Stephen Meyers, Ryan Gosling’s character in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, which Willimon wrote.

5. HOUSE OF CARDS MARKS DAVID FINCHER’S SMALL-SCREEN DEBUT.

Though two-time Oscar nominee David Fincher is best known for his work on the big screen with movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network, and Gone Girl, he made the leap to the small screen for the first time with House of Cards, which he executive produces. Fincher also directed the series’ first two episodes. 

6. THE SERIES LAUNCHED A BIDDING WAR.

Though Fincher and Kevin Spacey (who is also an executive producer on the series) began developing House of Cards without a network commitment, it wasn’t long before there was an all-out bidding war for the series, with AMC and HBO among its suitors. In what was an unprecedented move at the time, Netflix won the rights not just with boatloads of money, but by committing to shooting two seasons from the get-go. “We took it around to a lot of networks and they all loved it and they all were interested, but nobody wanted to commit to 13 episodes,” Fincher told Empire Magazine. “So we were kind of dead in the water. In my infinite hubris, I was: ‘Why not? If we’re gonna do it you may as well do 13.’ Because it’s so much work. It’s 100 hours a week to do a sh*t job.” 

7. HOUSE OF CARDS CHANGED THE BUSINESS OF “TELEVISION.”

Netflix’s successful acquisition of House of Cards—which was only its second foray into original programming, following Lilyhammer—changed the game (and definition) of “television” by releasing an entire season all at once, and online. “This is a really new perspective … to drop them all at once, but I think that’s how we watch TV now,” Spacey told the crowd at 2012’s MIPCOM, with Willimon adding that “streaming is the future. TV will not be TV in five years from now … everyone will be streaming.”

8. IT’S THE FIRST ONLINE SERIES TO WIN AN EMMY.

In 2013, House of Cards made history when it became the first online series to win an Emmy—three of them, actually: for Outstanding Directing (for Fincher), Outstanding Cinematography (for Eigil Bryld), and Outstanding Casting (for casting directors Laray Mayfield and Julie Schubert). A string of additional award nominations and wins, including Golden Globes for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, followed and opened up the door for other online-only series like Amazon’s Transparent, which won Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series and Best Actor (for Jeffrey Tambor) in 2015. 

9. KEVIN SPACEY TURNED WOODY ALLEN ONTO NETFLIX.

Getty Images

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Spacey shared that he sent Woody Allen a gift subscription to Netflix. “I am one of these actors where I believe very strongly that if you want to get a part, you have to do anything within reason to get that part,” Spacey said. “I admire Woody Allen so much. I was at a point where every time he announces a new movie, I never get an audition and nobody ever calls me to come in. I was like, ‘You know what? I am going to just write Woody Allen.’ So, I introduced myself and sent him a Netflix subscription and said ‘I don't know if you've seen my work, but you might want to watch this series.’ He wrote me back a warm and wonderful letter, and thanked me for the Netflix. He said he’d seen me play lots of different roles and said he absolutely would consider me in a film.” (Allen confirmed his desire to work with Spacey in a 2014 podcast.)

10. FINCHER ENLISTED AN ALL-STAR GROUP OF DIRECTORS FOR THE SERIES.

After setting the tone by directing the first two episodes himself, Fincher turned the directorial reins over to a small group of highly-acclaimed directors, including James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, At Close Range), Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress, Out of Time), Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Phone Booth), Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden), and Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate, The Beaver). “I felt like we were telling 13 stories that are all part of one big story, and I was handing off movements to people whose work I admire,” Fincher told DGA Quarterly of the show’s first season.

11. KEVIN SPACEY DID HIS HOMEWORK.

In order to better understand Frank Underwood’s position, Kevin Spacey spent some time with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Whip from California. “I don’t envy him [or] the position,” Spacey told George Stephanopoulos of McCarthy. “It’s not easy. But it was very fascinating [for me] to go to a couple of whip meetings and actually see what the agenda is, what they’re going to put out there, how they do it.” 

12. MOST OF THE SHOW IS SHOT IN MARYLAND.

Though set in D.C., the bulk of House of Cards’ locations—including much of The White House—were built on a soundstage in Joppa, Maryland. “We're making it to last for what will hopefully be a very long run,” executive producer John Melfi told The Baltimore Sun in 2012 of the massive sets they were building. “This is a Hollywood studio back lot.”

13. MOVING THE CAMERA IS FROWNED UPON.

Though Fincher set the series up to be a director-centric one, he did establish an informal set of rules for how the show should be shot—and doesn’t think that handheld or Steadicam shooting should be a part of that. “I remember David saying something like he would only move the camera if there was a damn good reason to,” James Foley, the series’ most regular director, told DGA Quarterly. “So I found myself with a self-imposed discipline to work within because I felt it should be stylistically consistent.” 

14. FINCHER TOLD THE CAST NOT TO F*** IT UP!

In a commentary track for the first season, Fincher swears that every one of the show’s principal actors was the first choice for the role. And as such, “I walked in and I got to say the thing I've always wanted to say to a cast, which is ‘Every single person in this room represents our first choice, so don't f*** this up. ‘Cause if you do, I will never forgive you.'”

15. RACHEL POSNER WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE A REGULAR CHARACTER.

When actress Rachel Brosnahan, who plays Doug Stamper’s tormented call girl/Achilles heel, was originally cast on the show she was set to appear in just two episodes and recite a total of five lines. “She had done such a fine job those first two episodes that I started exploring what it would mean to bring her character back and fully three-dimensionalize her,” Willimon told the Chicago Tribune. “Rachel was so fantastic when we brought her back that I just wanted to write for her more and more.”

16. PRESIDENT WALKER AND SECRETARY OF STATE DURANT ARE MARRIED.

In real life, Michael Gill and Jayne Atkinson (who play former President Garrett Walker and Secretary of State Catherine Durant, respectively) have been married since October 3, 1998—a fact that was unknown to Fincher, Spacey, or the rest of the cast until they were hired. “I had four auditions. All on tape,” Gill told the New York Post in 2014. “Never met Kevin, never met David. We both got it within four or five days of each other. And then towards the end [of the audition process], they realized we were married. When we got to set none of the cast knew we were married.”

17. WILLIMON'S LOVE FOR THE WIRE IS ON FULL DISPLAY.

Fans of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire (which was also shot in Baltimore) have probably recognized some familiar faces in House of Cards, which is hardly a coincidence. In a conversation on Twitter, Willimon told a fan that “My favorite show of all time is THE WIRE. BREAKING BAD = Genius. Also love SURVIVORMAN as far as reality-TV goes.” 

18. CASHEW IS ACTUALLY THREE GUINEA PIGS.

There’s no doubt that the breakout star of House of Cards’ second season was Cashew, the meme-tastic guinea pig BFF of hacker Gavin (Jimmi Simpson). The role is actually played by a trio of guinea pigs—Oscar, Lucas, and Encore—though trainer Carol Rosen told Vulture that it was Oscar who was used for about 90 percent of the scenes.

19. CHINA LOVES FRANK UNDERWOOD.

House of Cards has found an enormous audience in China, where it streams on Sohu, the Chinese equivalent of Netflix. In 2014, the company reported that, of the 24.5 million people who watched House of Cards, the majority of them were government employees. Wang Qishan, one of the Communist Party of China’s most powerful leaders, is reportedly one of the series’ most ardent fans

20. PRESIDENT OBAMA HATES HOUSE OF CARDS SPOILERS!

Getty Images

One day before House of Cards’ second season premiered in 2013, POTUS took time to tweet a warning to his tens of millions of followers:

(Which we guess also means that even the President can’t get an advance copy.)

21. ONE OF FRANK UNDERWOOD’S MOST ICONIC LINES WAS QUOTING FINCHER.

Early on in the first season, Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience: “You know what I like about people? They stack so well.” Though it was Willimon who was responsible for writing the line into the script, the dialogue itself was taken from Fincher. It was reportedly his direct response to a line producer who, on the set of the disastrous Alien 3, suggested the notoriously meticulous director try to be more of a “people person.”

22. UNDERWOOD’S PORTRAIT IS HANGING IN THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY.

Netflix

At the premiere of House of Cards’ new season last month, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. unveiled its latest acquisition, a portrait of Frank Underwood, which will hang alongside its collection of presidential portraits through October.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
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
iStock
arrow
Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image
iStock

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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES