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Amazon

10 Revealing Facts About Trading Spaces

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Amazon

Earlier this month, TLC announced that it was reviving the show that put the network on the map: Trading Spaces. The home improvement show was a ratings juggernaut for the network from 2000 to 2008, netting 9 million viewers per episode at its peak.

It succeeded with a simple premise: Two couples would trade houses, each helping an interior designer redecorate a room in the swapped home. They had just 48 hours and a $1000 budget. Then, the new room would be revealed to the homeowners. Some jumped with joy, others cried loudly offscreen. Now, all that drama is set to return sometime in 2018. But before Ty Pennington (presumably) dusts off his toolbelt, here are 10 fast facts about the original series.

1. IT WAS BASED ON A BBC SHOW.

Trading Spaces shook up both TLC and reality television when it premiered on October 13, 2000. But its concept wasn’t all that revolutionary. It was actually borrowed from the BBC show Changing Rooms, which ran from 1996 through 2004. On Changing Rooms, two couples also swapped homes to complete a quick interior redesign. There was even a breakout carpenter. Ty Pennington’s UK equivalent was “Handy” Andy Kane, who went on to record a super cheesy cover of “If I Had a Hammer.”

2. PAIGE DAVIS WAS NOT THE FIRST HOST.

Although she’s probably the person most associated with Trading Spaces, Paige Davis was not the show’s original host. Alex McLeod hosted the first 40 episodes and earned a Daytime Emmy for her work. But she quit the DIY series to pursue other projects, including Joe Millionaire.

3. THERE WAS A SECRET CARPENTER.

Sebastian Artz/Getty Images

Besides Davis and its stable of designers, Trading Spaces boasted two other personalities: the carpenters. The originals were Pennington and Amy Wynn Pastor, but the pair weren’t churning out all that woodwork themselves. There was actually a third unseen carpenter, Eddie Barnard. According to Salon, he handled some of the more intensive projects but was billed only as “prop master” in the credits. Pastor felt super guilty about taking credit for his work when she first joined the show. “Every single day at the end of the shoot, I’d say, ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.

4. THEY WERE SERIOUS ABOUT KEEPING THE DESIGNS SECRET.

Since Trading Spaces relied on genuine reactions (be they positive or otherwise), the crew took great pains to hide any clues that might tip off the contestants. Good Housekeeping reported that sheets were hung from the windows so no one could sneak a peek inside, and any paint splotches on clothing were covered with duct tape before a producer or crew member went over to the other house.

5. COUPLES WERE ALLOWED TO DESIGNATE “PROTECTED” AREAS.

Although countless angry couples would probably dispute this, executive producer Denise Cramsey told SF Gate that their liability release forms included space to list “protected” areas. That obviously didn’t mean the entire room, but if you specified a door or piece of furniture, the designers allegedly wouldn’t touch it. If the form was blank, all your stuff was fair game.

6. THERE WERE THREE WAYS TO GET DISQUALIFIED.

YouTube

At the height of its popularity, Trading Spaces got an average of 100 to 200 submissions daily. That meant the producers could afford to be a little choosy, but according to a former contestant, there were only three grounds for disqualification. The first was if the show’s tractor-trailer couldn’t pull up to the house or there wasn’t sufficient space outside for the carpentry. The second was if the owners refused to let the designers alter “many household items like the curtains, cabinets, flooring, or furniture.” The third was if it was more than a two-minute walk between the houses. The crew was constantly doing quick runs between the locations, so if your best friends lived the next neighborhood over, you weren’t getting onto the show.

7. FANS DISCUSSED THE SHOW ON MESSAGE BOARDS AND MADE A DRINKING GAME.

Trading Spaces was popular fodder on the emerging message boards of the early internet. Fans would post about their favorite episodes or defend their preferred designers. They also created a drinking game that included rules to take a drink every time “Ty climbs into cabinetry” or “someone mentions Genevieve’s bare feet.”

8. UNHAPPY COUPLES REDID THEIR ROOMS ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

There’s a whole YouTube category of Trading Spaces “fails” or “hate it reveals” and, unsurprisingly, the homeowners in those clips did not keep their new rooms. Some couldn’t even wait 24 hours. In 2003, The Washington Post reported that Elaine and Bernie Burke ripped the burlap curtain in their redesigned bedroom off the next morning, throwing it in their yard to protect flowers from frost. April Kilstrom and Leslie Hoover had a much harder time: They were the miserable recipients of Hildi Santo-Tomas’s infamous hay room. The designer completely covered the walls of their living room, a space they shared with a toddler and baby, with strands of straw. According to SF Gate, it took the partners and three other adults 17 hours just to strip all the glue.

9. SOME OF THE DESIGNERS STAYED ON TV.

After Trading Spaces ended in 2008, some designers (like Santo-Tomas) faded into relative obscurity. But a few stayed onscreen through new home decorating shows. Vern Yip appeared on HGTV’s Deserving Design and also served as a judge on the same network’s Design Star. Doug Wilson stayed on TLC as the host of Moving Up. Genevieve Gorder became a regular HGTV all-star, with credits including Dear Genevieve, Design Star, and Genevieve’s Renovation under her belt. She’s now a frequent contributor to The Rachael Ray Show.

10. GENEVIEVE GORDER ALSO DESIGNED HER OWN QVC LINE.

Gorder also debuted a QVC bedding line back in 2010. It’s currently unavailable, but you can still find her rugs at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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