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The set of Mister Rogers' television house

24 Rare Photos From Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

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The set of Mister Rogers' television house

In the years I have spent researching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from a pop culture perspective and building the Neighborhood Archive—an online resource for all things Mister Rogers—I have always enjoyed hearing from former cast and crew members who contributed to the Neighborhood in their own unique ways.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet David Smith—Neighborhood's Assistant Art Director throughout the early 1970s. While Mr. Smith had my full attention as he shared stories of living in Pittsburgh and working on the set of the Neighborhood during its "vintage" days (a time he shared with fellow crew member and future Hollywood star, Michael Keaton), he absolutely caught me off-guard when he sent me home with a collection of approximately 100 photographs and 35mm slides in addition to some of his original artwork used as props over four decades ago. Although a few of the photographs were eventually used for promotional purposes, a good majority were behind-the-scenes snapshots likely not seen in decades.

Here are 24 of the best shots from this collection.

Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin), Daniel Striped Tiger, and Fred Rogers

Don Brockett and Fred Rogers. "Potato Bugs and Cows" - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1300 (1973). Photo by Sandy Speiser.

David Smith (right) working on the model Neighborhood used during each episode's opening, closing, and transitions.

Fred Rogers. Photo by Sandy Speiser.

Bill "W.P." Barker with Dr. Bill and Elsie Jean Platypus.

Cast and Crew. "Potato Bugs and Cows" - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1300 (1973).

Fred Rogers with his son. Photo by Sandy Speiser.

Mrs. McFeely (Betsy Nadas) and Mr. McFeely (David Newell) in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Jack Guest (Art Director), David Smith, and a carpenter working on King Friday's royal plane.

Betty Aberlin.

Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin), Mr. McFeely (David Newell), and Francois Clemmons.

Fred Rogers with Barry and Garry Nelson in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The Nelsons played basketball for Pittsburgh's Duquesne University from 1968-1971. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1173 (1971).

Fred Rogers. Photo by Sandy Speiser.

David Smith under the "potato washer-dryer-sorter-dumper" prop.

Cast and Crew. "The Snow People" - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1245 (1972).

Francois Clemmons and Betty Aberlin.

Crew members including David Smith (center, right) and Michael Keaton (center, left). "Potato Bugs and Cows"- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1300 (1973). Photo by Sandy Speiser.

Yoshi Ito and Francois Clemmons. "The Snow People" - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1245 (1972).

Betty Aberlin.

Robert Troll (Bob Trow) and Mr. McFeely (David Newell). Photo by Sandy Speiser.

Johnny Costa (Music Director), Betty Aberlin, and Audrey Roth. "Potato Bugs and Cows" - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - Episode 1300 (1973). Photo by Sandy Speiser.

The Flying Zookeeni Brothers Daredevil Circus comprised of crew members such as David Smith (far right) and Michael Keaton (third from right).

The Neighborhood of Make-Believe set.

The set of Mister Rogers' television house.

For a full summary of my conversation with David M. Smith—including the complete collection of photographs, details on his artistic props, and a recorded interview—visit the Neighborhood Archive.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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.