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20 Truths About The X-Files

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©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co./Frank Ockenfels/FOX

Is the truth really out there? After a thrilling nine-season run, The X-Files aired its original series finale 15 years ago today, on May 19, 2002. Though Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have since returned to our televisions—and will be returning for an 11th season in the near future—here are 20 facts about the iconic series that will make you a believer.

1. THE IDEA FOR THE SHOW ORIGINATED WITH A PUBLIC OPINION SURVEY.

Chris Carter’s interest in the paranormal was piqued when he read Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/psychiatrist/Harvard Medical School professor John E. Mack’s analysis of a 1991 Roper Poll survey, which stated that at least 3.7 million Americans may have been abducted by aliens. “Everybody wants to hear that story,” Carter told Entertainment Weekly. “[Abduction] is tantamount to a religious experience.”

2. CHRIS CARTER WAS INSPIRED BY ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (AND SEVERAL OTHER SOURCES).

When asked about his intentions in creating The X-Files, Chris Carter told Twitch that, “I'm a child of the Watergate era, so I question authority and mistrust it, that was in my blood. One of my favorite movies is All the President's Men; the most amazing thing about it, and it's watchable time and again, is that we know the outcome. Watching it, is where the entertainment value lies. So I knew I would be exploring these things, though I didn't know I would be doing it for nine years.”

In the more than 20 years since The X-Files made its premiere, Carter has cited a number of movies and television shows as helping to inspire its style and tone. Among them: Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Twin Peaks, The Thin Blue Line, Prime Suspect, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and The Silence of the Lambs.

3. SCULLY WAS PARTLY MODELED ON CLARICE STARLING.

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Carter has been vocal about his admiration for Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning film, The Silence of the Lambs, and the influence it had on The X-Files. “It's not a mistake that Dana Scully has red hair like Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs,” Carter told Smithsonian magazine.

4. JODIE FOSTER MADE A CAMEO.

In the fourth season episode “Never Again,” Jodie Foster (who won an Oscar in 1992 for her role as Clarice Starling) provided the voice of Betty, a homicidal tattoo (yes, a homicidal tattoo).

5. DAVID DUCHOVNY PUSHED FOR JENNIFER BEALS TO PLAY SCULLY.

David Duchovny and the Flashdance star became acquainted when the two attended Yale. “I used to see David on the street—he tried to pick me up on several occasions,” Beals recalled. “And I said, ‘Um, I’m living with somebody.' And then I ended up taking this acting class in New York and who walks in the door but David Duchovny. And he’s like, ‘I swear I am not stalking you!’ And we became really good friends. He’s a real sweetheart … When he was doing The X-Files he had talked to me about doing that, but I think Gillian was much better suited for that part than me.”

6. IN REAL LIFE, SCULLY IS THE BELIEVER.

In a 1994 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Anderson admitted that Duchovny was a skeptic and she was the believer. “Psychokinesis appeals to me,” she said. “ESP, telling the future, I love that stuff.”

7. ANDERSON AND DUCHOVNY DID NOT GET ALONG.

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Though Anderson and Duchovny are tight nowadays, that friendship—while based on the work they did together—didn’t really come about until after The X-Files ended. “The crucible of doing that show made monsters out of both of us,” Duchovny told Variety, saying that it wasn’t until filming the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe that the two really clicked. “Once we got to step back, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, we really like each other. I didn’t know that was going to happen.’ The way we work together has changed. Whatever rapport we have as actors, we earned. It’s nice to be able to play that without ever even feeling like you’re playing it.”

“Our relationship has definitely become a proper friendship over the last few years,” Anderson added. “I think we’re more on each other’s side. We’re more aware of the other’s needs, wants, concerns, and mindful to take those into consideration—and just sharing more about our experiences in the moment, under the sudden realization that we’re both in this together, and wouldn’t it be nice if it were a collaboration?”

8. SCULLY WAS WRITTEN AS THE CENTER OF THE SHOW.

While it’s often stated that Carter’s goal in creating Mulder and Scully was to subvert gender stereotypes, he says that wasn’t a conscious part of the plan. “It just made sense to me in an instinctive way, that she would be the scientist,” he said. “I don't know what that says about me, but I always saw it that way.”

“It was always a man and a woman,” Carter added. “I'm interested in strong women characters. For me, Scully is the center of our show, she is the skeptic in all of us. Science is at the root of science fiction, so Mulder, while he seems to be often right and it might seem to be his show, I always think of Scully as the grounding influence and the thing that keeps the solar system of the show in place.”

9. SCULLY’S CHARACTER HAS HAD A BIG INFLUENCE ON THE TELEVISION LANDSCAPE.

Anderson told the Chicago Tribune that Carter “fought tooth and nail to get me rather than what used to be the version of women [on] television back then, which was very different. And ironically it had an international effect on women and on television and how women were not just perceived but how they behaved … This funny old series we were doing had a huge influence on the history of television in many ways, from the lighting on television to the kinds of stories that were being told to the characters. The amount of things you see right now where they even just have a male and female as investigators. It’s almost a joke. It’s like, somebody should come with something different now!”

10. CARTER DIDN’T THINK OF THE SHOW AS SCIENCE FICTION.

“I actually resisted the ‘science fiction’ label in the beginning, because the show is actually based in science,” Carter told WIRED. “If it weren’t for Scully, I think the show could be just kind of loopy. So the science and the accuracy of the science is all-important to the success of the storytelling. I think Steven Spielberg called Close Encounters of the Third Kind ‘speculative science’ and I would say The X-Files, for me, has always fit more into that category.” 

11. THE SHOW EMPLOYED A NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS.

In an effort to make sure the series got its science right, the producers hired a number of scientists as consultants, including University of Maryland microbiologist Anne Simon, who was hired at the end of the first season, and came back aboard for the tenth season reboot.

“You’re not there to tell the writer, ‘Chris, you can’t have a Flukeman that’s half-man, half-worm,’” she explained of her role in the production. “But you want to come up with something reasonable.” (Simon is also the author of The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants.)

In addition, Carter has looked to his brother for help. “He’s a professor at MIT, and so I went to him for a lot of technical stuff,” he told WIRED. “A lot of the things that are in the pilot came directly from him. I had written something about time and space, and he corrected me on my terminology.”

12. THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS AN EXTRA.

Carin Baer/FOX

When actor William B. Davis first appeared on The X-Files, it was as a background actor with no dialogue. At that time neither Davis nor the producers knew that he would end up becoming the show’s main antagonist. “There was a time when I wasn’t in any episodes, then all of a sudden I had a line or two and I thought, 'That was interesting,’” Davis told the Palm Beach Post in 1996. “And that just gradually increased. Then, finally I had a big scene where Mulder comes after me with a gun. That was the turning point where the producers decided this character is really interesting and I guess they felt I was OK to handle it.”

“The character is very simply written and William is called upon to carry a lot of the weight of the character,” added writer/executive producer Frank Spotnitz. “He is utterly convincing. Even before he had words, he had looks where you could see his mind processing what he was watching and you could see there was intelligence behind his eyes.”

13. THE CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN WASN’T A SMOKER.

At least he wasn’t when he was cast in the role. But he had been. He had kicked the habit nearly 20 years before taking on the role, after smoking for 25 years. Though he eventually was given herbal cigarettes to play the part, the cigarettes were real for his first few appearances, and the job required him to inhale. “That was beginning to wake up some long buried desires,” Davis said.

14. MITCH PILEGGI’S SHAVED HEAD ALMOST COST HIM THE ROLE OF WALTER SKINNER.

Pileggi auditioned three times to land the role of FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner. "I thought, this guy [Chris Carter] either hates me or I must be a totally bad actor,” Pileggi recalled. “But he told me later it was because my shaved head was too extreme for an FBI agent.”

15. SKINNER MARRIED SCULLY’S STAND-IN.

Pileggi met his wife, Arlene Warren, at work; she was Scully’s stand-in. The couple married in 1997. From 1998 to 2002, Warren made a number of appearances on the show, playing Skinner’s assistant.

16. LUCY LAWLESS WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE A RECURRING ROLE.

In 2001, shortly after Xena: Warrior Princess came to an end, news broke that Lucy Lawless had signed on for The X-Files. Though the plan was that her character, Super Soldier Shannon McMahon, would be a recurring one, a high-risk pregnancy forced her to bow out after appearing in just two episodes. On May 7, 2002, Lawless gave birth to a healthy baby boy (but did not return to the series).

17. IT LED TO A SHORT-LIVED SPINOFF.

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The Lone Gunmen, a trio of conspiracy theorists who ran their own magazine, proved popular enough with audiences that they were given their own series in 2001. Just 13 episodes aired before the show was cancelled, though they were given the unusual opportunity to address the series finale’s cliffhanger in the ninth season of The X-Files.

18. THE X-FILES GAVE BIRTH TO BREAKING BAD AS WE KNOW IT.

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan (who also helped to create The Lone Gunmen) logged several years as a writer on The X-Files. Among his many credits on the show is the season six episode “Drive,” which stars Bryan Cranston as Patrick Crump, a “Monster-of-the-Week” who kidnaps Mulder. Cranston’s performance stayed with Gilligan over the years, and is what led to his being cast as Walter White on Breaking Bad. "You don't have to like him,” Gilligan said of the character. “But you need to sympathize and feel empathy and sorrow for him at the end of the hour.”

Other future Breaking Bad stars Aaron Paul (Jesse), Dean Norris (Hank), Raymond Cruz (Tuco), Danny Trejo (Tortuga), and Michael Bowen (Uncle Jack) also appeared on The X-Files.

19. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY PRONOUNCED THE SERIES D.O.A.

In a preview of the 1993 fall television lineup, Entertainment Weekly declared that “This show is a goner,” citing its genre and Friday night time slot as two indicators that the series wouldn’t last. Today, it’s one of the longest-running sci-fi series in television history.

20. CARTER WANTS TO BELIEVE.

“I'm definitely a skeptic,” Carter told Twitch of his belief in extraterrestrials, “but like Mulder, I want to believe.”

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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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