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15 Pretty, Pretty Good Facts About Curb Your Enthusiasm

On October 17, 1999, HBO aired a mockumentary special called Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm. They liked it so much that they picked it up as a 10-episode narrative series, which premiered on October 15, 2000 with a slightly truncated title. On and off for eight seasons (it’s been on hiatus since 2011), Larry David has played a very candid version of himself, with every episode revolving around him angering somebody. Here are some real facts about the improvised show, which just confirmed that a ninth season is coming.

1. “LARRY DAVID” IS AN “IDEALIZED” VERSION OF LARRY DAVID.

Sure, there are some obvious similarities between TV Larry and real-life Larry, but David told Rolling Stone that it wouldn’t be smart for him to be TV Larry all the time. “The character really is me, but I just couldn't possibly behave like that,” he said. “If I had my druthers, that would be me all the time, but you can’t do that. We’re always doing things we don’t want to do, we never say what we really feel, and so this is an idealized version of how I want to be. As crazy as this person is, I could step into those shoes right now, but I would be arrested or I’d be hit or whatever.”

2. THE MOCKUMENTARY FORMAT WAS LOST ON SOME OF CHERYL HINES’S FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS.

Curb Your Enthusiasm/Facebook

Larry David tapped documentary filmmaker Robert B. Weide to direct the original Curb Your Enthusiasm special (Weide stayed on for most of the series run as both a director and executive producer), which was supposed to chronicle David’s returning to the stand-up comedy circuit. Weide didn’t understand why David wanted to “torture himself like that” but finally realized that “he wanted to face down some old demons, now that he had nothing invested in it.” David had already locked in a commitment with HBO to do a special on his stand-up, but it evolved into being more of a mockumentary than a documentary. As Weide explained, people who knew Cheryl Hines thought it was too real. “She had friends in Florida who saw the show and were upset to find out that Cheryl had married a big TV producer and they were never invited to the wedding.”

3. CHERYL HINES DIDN’T THINK SHE WOULD GET HIRED AS CHERYL DAVID.

Hines’s background was with The Groundlings improv, and she had an inkling as to who David was. “I wasn’t very stressed out about the audition, because I thought 'It’s not going to happen,'” Hines said during a conversation at The Paley Center. Neither she nor her agent thought she “was right for the part.” At the time of her audition, Hines was working as a personal assistant to Rob Reiner’s family. Four hours after reading for the part she got a call that she’d won the role. “I know now that they were looking for an unknown, so it worked in my favor that I had absolutely nothing on my resume,” she said.

4. CHERYL DAVID IS NOT BASED ON LAURIE DAVID.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Cheryl Hines said that she did not meet Larry David’s former wife, Laurie, until after the show began production. “It was confusing to people because people would ask me what kind of research I did on Laurie before I started playing her. And I had to say I wasn’t playing her,” Hines said. At one point Hines asked Larry if she should be hanging out with Laurie, and David said “no.”

5. EACH EPISODE IS BASED ON AN OUTLINE, AND NO DIALOGUE IS EVER WRITTEN.

Curb Your Enthusiasm became a milestone show because of its mostly improvised format. David wrote rough outlines for each episode and let the actors fill in the rest. “I write the scenes where we know everything that’s going to happen,” David told NPR. “There’s an outline of about seven or eight pages, and then we improvise it.”

“We do a rough camera blocking before we start shooting, but I tell the actors just to ‘blah-blah' the dialogue until the cameras roll,” Weide explained. “My fear is that if they make up a wonderful piece of dialogue, then they'll be self-consciously trying to hit the same mark once we’re filming and we’ll lose the spontaneity.”

6. THE SHOW’S TITLE HAS TWO MEANINGS.

David titled the series Curb Your Enthusiasm as an ode to Seinfeld fervor, meaning that people shouldn’t expect this to be another Seinfeld. “Also, people should keep enthusiasm curbed in their lives,” David told Time. “Always keep it. To not is unattractive. It’s unseemly.”

7. DAVID DIDN’T WANT HIS TV MARRIAGE TO BE TOO HAPPY.

“I want people to think we’re happy, but not that happy,” David said during The Paley Center cast Q&A. “I don’t want to see anybody that happy, because it makes me a little sick. I’m trying to strike the balance that you believe the marriage, that they really like each other, but he’s really not that happy.” David also admitted that his on-screen marriage and real-life marriage started to mirror each other. “It’s [the marriage] mitigated a little bit by the kids in my real marriage. It’s much easier for me to play a guy without kids, though … the wives, they’re getting closer and closer.”

8. THE "MARY, JOSEPH AND LARRY" EPISODE IS BASED ON A TRUE STORY. 

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Cheryl Hines told TV Guide that her favorite episode of the series was the 2002 Christmas one where her family visits and Larry eats a cookie version of baby Jesus. “When I was home in Florida, my family had made a manger scene out of cookies and everyone was walking around saying, ‘Don't eat baby Jesus.’ And I immediately called Larry and said, ‘If you were at my house right now, you would eat baby Jesus and my family would go crazy.’ And then we started talking back-and-forth and he [loved it].”

9. LARRY DAVID DIDN’T WANT TO BE MARRIED ON THE SHOW IF HE WASN’T MARRIED IN REAL LIFE.

In real life, Larry and Laurie David got divorced in 2007, which he integrated into the show: the seventh and eighth season arcs involved David separating from and then divorcing his wife. “Larry works on a very deeply unconscious level that even he’s not aware of,” Susie Essman told Rolling Stone. “As an outsider, I can see it. He doesn’t want to analyze it, that’s not his personality, he’s not analytical, but I think that that’s basically it. That if he’s not married, he doesn’t want to be married fictitiously, either.”

But Hines told The A.V. Club she thinks the couple belongs together. “Who else is going to love him? And, by the way, he is very entertaining.”

10. SUSIE ESSMAN CONSTANTLY TELLS FANS TO “GO F**K” THEMSELVES.

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Essman’s character, Susie Greene, has a foul mouth and makes a regular habit of unleashing streams of expletives on Larry and her on-screen husband, Jeff (Jeff Garlin). Essman explained to The Paley Center audience how fans constantly come up to her and ask to be berated. “My life has become extremely bizarre that people just come up to [me] wherever I am, begging me to tell them to go f**k themselves. It’s like, I’m buying produce, I’m shaking a melon. ‘Call me a fat f**k.’ I’m not always in the mood.” During an interview with Esquire, Essman said that, “People are visibly disappointed that when they meet me and I’m not this screaming, yelling crazy person.”

11. JEFF GARLIN THINKS JEFF GREENE IS A “BUFFOON."

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During the cast’s Paley Center Q&A, Garlin claimed that Larry forced him to co-star and produce the show against his will. Garlin also shared how he feels about his character, Jeff Greene: “He’s an idiot. He’s not a good guy. He wants to get laid constantly, by anyone, any time. He wants to please his clients. That’s all he works on … I’m a decent guy so there’s some niceness underneath. I have no respect for this guy. He’s a buffoon, that’s all.”

12. LARRY DAVID AND RICHARD LEWIS USED TO BE CHILDHOOD RIVALS. 

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In 2000, David came over to comedian Richard Lewis’s house and personally asked him to star on the show. But before they were friends, they were teenage rivals. The men attended a sports camp together when they were 12 years old, and did not get along. “I despised the guy and he hated me,” Lewis told OC Weekly. “It was like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but at 12.”

The two men had forgotten about each other until they reconnected a decade later, when they both started doing stand-up. “We then traced our childhoods and then it hit me like a ton of bricks! I was like, ‘Ohhhh you’re Larry David from that camp!’ The odds that we would become best friends was so unique and so crazy, it bonded us forever. You can see that on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Ninety-nine percent is me fighting with him because we do it in real life.”

13. THE SHOW HELPED TO EXONERATE A MAN WHO WAS ARRESTED FOR MURDER.

In 2003 Juan Catalan was arrested for murdering a teenage girl, even though he swore he couldn’t have been at the purported crime scene because he was with his daughter at a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game. Curb Your Enthusiasm just happened to be filming at the game on the very same day, and five months after Catalan’s arrest, the raw footage from the filming proved that Catalan was indeed where he claimed to be. In 2007, Catalan was awarded $320,000 in a lawsuit he had filed against the city of Los Angeles and its police department.

14. ACCORDING TO GARLIN, THERE’S A 51 PERCENT CHANCE THE SHOW WILL RETURN.

At August’s TCA (Television Critics Association), Garlin said he’d love to do more Curb Your Enthusiasm and prophesied that the chance of David signing on for another season is around 51 percent. “Larry David is so goddamned rich he doesn’t have to do anything unless it’s good,” Garlin joked.

15. DAVID ONCE PUT THE ODDS OF A NINTH SEASON AT 6-1.

At the end of 2014, David told Grantland, “I guess, right now, the odds would be against it, probably 6 to 1,” and stated he has no desire to do another episode “to wrap things up.” Last summer, HBO's then-president of programming Michael Lombardo saw Larry David and told The Hollywood Reporter that David had pointed to a notebook and said he was working on a new season of Curb. “I don’t think it’s out of [Larry’s] system,” said Lombardo. “I think he wants to have something to say.” Just this week, the network confirmed that a ninth season is indeed happening. “We’re thrilled that Larry has decided to do a new season of Curb and can’t wait to see what he has planned,” Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, said in a statement.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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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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