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(Shortlived) Cartoon Superheores That Weren't Great for Kids

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There's always a debate about whether violent cartoons are good for kids and whether some cartoon characters are actually gay. But some cartoon heroes just aren't good for kids. Maybe they're darkly depressed Vietnam vets, maybe they were on the A-Team or maybe they're a stripper. Whatever the reason, these heroes just plain aren't good role models.

John Rambo

John Rambo made his name in First Blood as a brooding, PTSD-ridden Vietnam vet, then eventually became a killing machine that just made a bloody mess of Burma in Rambo. So of course he'd make a good role model for kids, right? That's what producers must have been thinking when they green-lit Rambo and the Forces of Freedom, a cartoon that put Sylvester Stallone's hero on the TV screens of children across the nation. They toned down the PTSD implications that made Rambo such a complex hero in David Morell's book First Blood and ramped up the witty one-liners. Rambo was united with a team of crime-fighters to fight the forces of S.A.V.A.G.E., a criminal empire led by General Warhawk. Somehow, Rambo managed to thwart Warhawk's plans (among them were stealing art from Venice and buying South America) without killing anyone, instead compelling most of the bad guys into simply surrendering. Not surprisingly, Rambo didn't translate well to the realm of kid's TV and the series was cancelled after its first season.

Mr. T

mrt2.jpgRuby-Spears, the masterminds behind the Rambo series, must have had a thing for Stallone films, because they turned to Rocky III for their next cartoon hero. Mr. T featured the actor of A-Team and pro-wrestling fame as the coach of the U.S. gymnastics team. Of course, those gymnasts also had a penchant for solving mysteries, which Mr. T was more than eager to help out with. One look at the title sequence should tip you off that the hero here isn't quite Sgt. B.A. Baracus. Even though the series only made it through 30 episodes, it did launch Mr. T's journey into children's entertainment. Not long after Mr. T ended, he released Be Somebody"¦or Be Somebody's Fool, a motivational video for young audiences.


stripperella.jpgStan Lee brought the world X-Men, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, but Stripperella showed a markedly different side to his comic creativity. Voiced by Pamela Anderson (who else?), Strippella was the superheroine alter ego of everyday stripper Erotica Jones on the self-titled show on Spike TV. Not geared towards kids, Stripperella was rated MA and was loaded with blurred nudity and double entendres with lines like "Look out crime. I'm gonna to take a bite out of you. But not in a way you're gonna find pleasurable." The show only made it 13 episodes.

Ernie Devlin

Devlin.jpgErnie Devlin, based on real-life risk-taker Evil Knievel, traveled with the circus and performed death-defying stunts at an amazing rate (approximately one per week). Of course, like any great cartoon hero, he also liked to solve crimes. The series wasn't quite hokey enough for the traditional cartoon audience, but it wasn't quite adult enough for a teenage crowd, so it struggled to find an audience. Along those same lines, Devlin often performed risky stunts and never got injured, but still had to present safety tips at the end of every show. Devlin was voiced by former Monkee Mickey Dolenz, which should give you some idea of how high quality the show was.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]