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Crazy racist commercials

It's just plain jaw-dropping what you can find on YouTube these days. In this case, while looking for outtakes of the brilliant parody commercials from the old Dudley Moore classic Crazy People (love that flick!) I accidentally unearthed a big steaming pile of racially insensitive ads I'm sure TV broadcasters would rather forget they ever aired. But the internet doesn't forget, friends. I wanted to share what I found, and hopefully I won't ruffle too many feathers while doing it. Some of these will make you feel pretty uncomfortable -- and are potentially NSFW -- while others are parodies meant to be taken lightly. All, however, are cringe-inducing.

SONY: "Caucasians are gangly"
The clip that started it all, this is a parody ad from the movie Crazy People.

JELL-O
A pretty unambiguously racist ad from the 60s, starring a Chinese baby who learns he can't eat Jell-o with chopsticks. Also featuring the voice of TV's most bigoted narrator!

WHIT Radio
A parody spot from Collegehumor. I guess racists love Spin Doctors?

CHICKEN TREATS: AHH GOT DA TASTE!
A study in racial stereotypes from an Australian fast food joint. Not racist but also cringeworthy is the white guy's haircut.

COCA-COLA
It seems Japanese tourists get a bad rap everywhere -- especially, if this stunningly insensitive commercial is any indication, in India.

WING TAXI: chicken so good you'll slap your momma?
This one's just a gut feeling. Why does the kid slap his mother in the face? Even if it's not racist, it's just ain't right!

VOLKSWAGON: Suicide bomber
This makes me want to wash my eyeballs. What moron thought this would help VW sell cars?

COLT 45: The cowboy's choice?
Something about this raw footage from a 1960s Colt 45 beer commercial -- perhaps the cowboy outfit, or the way the actor seems like he'd rather be doing anything else -- makes me acutely uncomfortable.

OVALTINA: cannibals and missionaries
Monkeys scream in the background as the white maid saves a missionary from cannibals in the jungle. None too subtle.

COLORERIA ITALIANA
The washing powder that turns your slobby white lover into a buff black dude. Some people will find this offensive, and zero people (at least those of us who don't speak Italian) will understand what the product they're trying to sell actually does. Pointless? Si!.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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