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15 Fun Facts About Troop Beverly Hills

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Troop Beverly Hills starred Shelley Long as Phyllis Nefler, a pampered Beverly Hills housewife who becomes the leader of her daughter's "Wilderness Girls" troop to prove to her divorce-seeking husband (Craig T. Nelson) that she's still the caring woman he married. After lukewarm reviews and a poor showing at the box office, the movie gained a cult following over the years, and is known for helping to launch the careers of a host of young actresses, including Tori Spelling, Carla Gugino, Kellie Martin, and Jenny Lewis.

1. THE FILM WAS PARTLY BASED ON THE LIFE OF ITS PRODUCER.

Ava Ostern Fries, wife of veteran producer Charles W. Fries, became the Brownie leader of her seven-year-old daughter's Beverly Hills troop. When it rained on their first camping trip, they really went to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where they roasted marshmallows in front of the fireplaces. After her stories became a hit at dinner parties, Ava was implored to write her stories down.

2. DISNEY WANTED BETTE MIDLER TO PLAY PHYLLIS.

Ava Ostern Fries turned down Disney's offer to make her movie because they wanted Bette Midler for the lead, and Fries didn't think she was right for it.

3. CARLA GUGINO LIED ABOUT HER AGE IN ORDER TO PLAY CHICA.

Carla Gugino was 16 years old when she auditioned for Troop Beverly Hills. She lied and said she was 14. She finally admitted the truth to director Jeff Kanew three weeks into production, knowing it was too late for her role to be recast. "I thought for sure he was gonna be like, 'No big deal,'" Gugino recounted. "But he was like, 'Gasp! I would've never hired you if I knew you were 16.'"

The film was a turning point for Gugino: "I got emancipated that year, so I was a legal adult," Gugino told The A.V. Club. "So I didn’t have to have a chaperone on set, and it was the first time that I made enough money that I could say, 'I’m going to fully support myself as an actor.' So that was the moment I really felt like a real actor."

4. IT WAS TORI SPELLING'S FIRST FILM ROLE.

Tori Spelling, who played Jamie in the film, had appeared in a handful of television series, including Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. One year after Troop Beverly Hills was released, she was cast as Donna Martin on Beverly Hills, 90210.

5. IT WAS THE FIRST FILM IN 30 YEARS TO SHOOT INSIDE BEVERLY HILLS CITY HALL.

Filming inside of Beverly Hills City Hall had been forbidden for 30 years. Until this movie.

6. "COOKIE TIME" ISN'T WHERE IT USED TO BE.

The Giorgio boutique at 295 North Rodeo Drive is now a Louis Vuitton storefront.

7. THE WRITER OF "COOKIE TIME" MADE A CAMEO.

Actress/songwriter Hilary Shepard was the sales associate who sold Phyllis a dress missing a bead.

8. THE TITLE SEQUENCE WAS MADE BY THE CREATOR OF REN & STIMPY.

The Ren & Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi said working on Troop Beverly Hills was a big opportunity. “It’s the first time I ever got a chance to animate and design a sexy girl," he said. "It was completely taboo to draw women who were good looking because it would set a bad example for young girls.”

Joining Kricfalusi were Jon McClenahan (later an animator on Animaniacs), Jim Smith (who later worked with Kricfalusi on Ren & Stimpy), Mike Kazaleh (Camp Candy, The Simpsons), Kent Butterworth (The Smurfs, He-Man), and Eric Stefani (character layout artist for The Simpsons, co-founder of No Doubt, and brother of Gwen Stefani).

9. THERE ARE CONTINUITY ERRORS IN THE TITLE SEQUENCE.

At around the 2:15 mark, a troop member simply disappears with no explanation. Some of the actors' names also didn't fully appear on movie screens, because Kricfalusi placed them too close to the edges. "If [the studio] noticed, they didn’t care," opening title supervisor Bill Kroyer said. "That’s a job that I hardly remember getting notes on. That’s the strangest thing. That whole production, it was rushed to get it done, and they really liked the look of the art. It’s all hand-inked and everything—it looks great. I think they were just so excited about that so the little things about the staging or composition, they just didn’t mention it."

10. THERE WAS A 77 SUNSET STRIP EASTER EGG.

Edd Byrnes (who played Ross Coleman) appeared on the Swiss army knife's comb on purpose. Byrnes portrayed Kookie in the detective drama 77 Sunset Strip (1958-1964), a character who combed his hair so often a novelty song called "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb" was written.

11. THE GIRL SCOUTS REFUSED TO ENDORSE THE PICTURE.

They withheld approval because they didn't like the way some Scouts were portrayed in the script.

12. IT WAS VELDA'S LAST FILM ROLE.

Betty Thomas retired from acting following Troop Beverly Hills to focus on directing for film and television. Among her more than two dozen credits are Private Parts, Doctor Dolittle, I Spy, and The Brady Bunch Movie (featuring Shelley Long).

13. JENNY LEWIS BECAME A ROCK STAR.

Jenny Lewis, who played Hannah, co-founded the band Rilo Kiley along with fellow child actor Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts, Boy Meets World) and later became a solo musician. In 2015, she acknowledged Troop Beverly Hills in her music video for "She's Not Me."

14. LEWIS KEPT ONE ITEM FROM THE SET.

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"I have the hat that Kellie Martin's character [Emily Coleman] wore," Lewis claimed. "It's a little white hat with a pink flower, but I don't know why I still have it."

15. PEOPLE KEEP MIXING HANNAH UP WITH TIFFANY.

Lewis said that people still confuse her with Emily Schulman, who played Tiffany Honigman in the movie (and Harriet Brindle on Small Wonder). "My entire life growing up, everyone thought I was this girl who was on Small Wonder, Emily Schulman," Lewis told Rolling Stone Australia. "Not the case. And then I put out this video ("She's Not Me") and someone on Twitter was like, 'Oh, were you on Small Wonder?' Oh, drat! Still happening!"

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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