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Sitcom-munication Breakdown: When Sitcoms Go Global

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OK, I'll admit it "“ I cut my teeth on a channel selector, and the only tan I've ever gotten came from a cathode ray tube. I'm Kara, and I'm a TV addict. How suffocating is this monkey on my back? Well, whenever I travel, one of the first things I do upon checking into my room is to turn on the TV and search the available channels. Stateside, I suffer from withdrawal if TV Land is unavailable. While abroad, I'll sit through any show if I recognize the theme song, despite the language barrier.

All of this got me to thinking about American shows and how they translate overseas. Some shows are simply dubbed into another language, like...

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Italian-style

THE NANNY.jpgThe Italian rapper, with his uninhibited "˜whoos' of delight and his ad-libbed chuckles, seems to be having far more fun with the premise than Will Smith ever did. I'm wondering, though, how do they handle the matter of Will's colloquial speech versus Carlton's prep school diction? Is there such a thing as "gangsta" Italian?

The Nanny, now in Spanish!

It's interesting to see how true to the original theme song and opening credits Chile and Mexico stayed when broadcasting their own renditions of The Nanny. It's also fascinating how different the cartoon nanny's look in each version (particularly the way they walk). Animation aside, the story premise and characters are basically the same, but I'm sure they somehow have to give the recurring jokes a local flavor. What are the Chilean equivalents of Loehmann's and Boca Raton?

South American nannies, a German Al Bundy and more all after the jump!

Married with Children goes German

Even if they don't speak a word of German, true TV fans will recognize Hilfe, meine Familie spinnt as Germany's version of Married with Children. The world-weary expression on the father's face, the mother's stretch pants, and the kids begging money all give it away. I don't know whether the Bavarian Al Bundy works in a shoe store, or slips away to the nudie bar"¦

International Flossers need to fill me in! Tell me about both dubbed and foreign versions of I Love Lucy, Roseanne, Green Acres, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Cheers, The Cosby Show, The Golden Girls and any other well-known sitcoms.

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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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