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13 Nostalgia-Heavy Commercials To Make You Pine For 1987

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muppetfamilyxmas1.jpgMy wife recently found a VHS tape filled with holiday specials, all recorded during the 1987 and 1988 Christmas seasons. For her, the unequivocal highlight was A Muppet Family Christmas. And I'll admit, the uber-ensemble cast of Muppets, Sesame Street residents and inhabitants of Fraggle Rock was fantastic. But for me, even this historic Jim Henson masterpiece was eclipsed by all the terrific commercials laser targeted at my eight-year-old self.

This episode of 'The Projectionist' represents my first foray into YouTube uploading, and is absolutely nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. But if you're the kind of person who enjoys Lego ads, Mr. Belvedere promos and a toned-down Dick Vitale, read on.

1. Panasonic VCRs

The self-important tagline "just slightly ahead of our time" is even funnier when the product being advertised is a VCR you can program via pay phone.

2.TV 101 on CBS

This show only lasted 13 episodes and was not on my third-grade radar. But look closely and you'll notice a young Matt LeBlanc (00:03) and Teri Polo (00:06).

3. Cröonchy Stars

Another thing I don't remember: Cröonchy Stars. But I learned two fun facts from Wikipedia, one of which is almost certainly false. 1) "In addition to the gratuitous umlaut in Cröonchy, most of the cereal's labeling and promotional material used the idiosyncratic spelling Swedish Chef, with an umlaut over the letter d. As with 'Spinal Tap,' this marks one of the rare instances of an umlaut being used over a consonant." 2) "Originally, Jim Henson created the name of the cereal as "Stoopid Flakes." However, this did not sit well with Post. They renamed the breakfast cereal into Cröonchy Stars [citation needed]."

4. A less animated Dick Vitale

By today's standards, he seems sedated.

5. Pat Petersen Anti-Alcohol PSA

I did not know who Pat Petersen was when we watched this clip the other day, and I'm sure my 1987 self did not accept substance abuse advice from any member of the Knots Landing cast. (For this PSA, the Swedish Chef would have been a better choice.)

6. McDonald's

I probably made the same joke twenty years ago, but I'll ask again: does anybody find it strange that Grimace is wearing earmuffs but doesn't have ears?

7. The Lego Maniac

Of all the jingles, this is the one I'm most upset is stuck in my head. On repeat.

8. ABC Promos, Part I

A plug for the power hour that was Mr. Belvedere/Just The Ten Of Us.

9. The Halls of Medicine

How come The Halls of Medicine never became a theme-park attraction?

10. ABC Promos, Part II

Here's one for all you Bruce Willis and Timothy Busfield fans: Moonlighting and thirtysomething.

11. Definitely Dinosaurs

I did not own any Definitely Dinosaurs, but I clearly remember the last two seconds of this commercial.

12. ABC Promos, Part III

One more network promo: Who's the Boss? and Roseanne.

13. Toys 'R' Us

I can't decide whether to call the star 'a Mark Harmon lookalike' or 'a young John Edwards.' Either way, the ad is far more touching than I'd expected from a Toys 'R' Us commercial, and probably convinced my parents to load me up with WWF figures and Thundercats merchandise that Christmas.

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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]