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The Quick 10: 10 Fake Brands Used by the Entertainment Industry

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Technically, it's more like, "10 Fake Brands and Numbers and License Plates Used by the Entertainment Industry" but that's pretty wordy for a title. Basically, it's brands that you've seen pop up in show after show, movie after movie. Maybe you haven't even noticed that they're used across the board - they can be pretty sneaky about placement. Sometimes it's because they truly need a generic brand, and in some cases it's just because it's become an inside joke to work in to movies, much like the Wilhelm Scream. Either way, I think it's fun.

red apple1. Red Apple Cigarettes from Quentin Tarantino. There are plenty of directors and writers who create brands and use them across all of their movies and shows, but this one and Big Kahuna Burger, another Tarantino, are some of the most famous (read on for another one that I think ranks up there). Some people mistakenly think "Fruit Brute" and "Kaboom!" cereal are from the depths of Tarantino's imagination, but those were actual cereals. Once upon a time, "Fruit Brute" was part of the Frankberry-Count Chocula-Booberry family.

"¢ First seen in Pulp Fiction, Red Apple can also be spotted in the Tokyo airport when Uma Thurman walks by an giant advertisement for the brand.
"¢ A pack is tossed in the Gecko Brothers' car in From Dusk Til Dawn.
"¢ Ted the Bellhop from Four Rooms smokes them.
"¢ In the Planet Terror part of Grindhouse, the BBQ owner tosses a pack to Wray.

2. Morley Cigarettes. Unlike Tarantino's Red Apple cigs which appear exclusively in his own movies, Morley Cigarettes are prop smokes used across the board. Here are a few places you'll find them:

Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original). Remember when Brenda comes home from Paris with a newfound smoking habit? The cigarettes her parents catch her with are Morleys.
"¢ Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was loyal to the Morley brand.
"¢ On Heroes, Claire Bennet's real mom tries to light a Morley in Sandra Bennet's house, "˜til Sandra puts the kibosh on it.
"¢ The American soldiers in Platoon smoke Morleys.
"¢ Christina Ricci's character in Prozac Nation is a Morley smoker.
"¢ The infamous Smoking Man from The X-Files smokes -you guessed it "“ Morleys.

3. Heisler Beer is the barley-and-hops version of Morleys. Some notable appearances:

"¢ In lots of My Name is Earl episodes.
"¢ When Silas from Weeds celebrates his 18th birthday, the beverage of choice is Heisler.
Beerfest by the Broken Lizard guys features both cans and bottles of the fictitious beer.
"¢ One of my current favorites, United States of Tara, features Heisler in an episode where Marshall and Kate throw a party while their parents are out of town.

4. Oceanic Airlines. I'm a big Lost fan and had never heard of this made-up brand until then, but it's been around since long before Jack and co. crashed on the Island.

It's usually specifically used to depict ill-fated airlines, so the next time you spot the name at the beginning of a movie, you'll know something that the person sitting next to you doesn't. Use it to make yourself sound like a film genius: "It's so obvious that the plane is going to be hijacked. Could they make their foreshadowing any more obvious?"

"¢ Part of the 1996 movie Executive Decision takes place on Oceanic Airlines Flight 343.
"¢ In "The Bridget at Kang So Ri," an episode of JAG that aired in 2000, Korean terrorists hijack an Oceanic Air flight.
"¢ Oceanic is referenced in other ABC and/or J.J. Abrams projects "“ the name has made appearances in Chuck, Fringe and Pushing Daisies.
"¢ Supposedly the Oceanic name goes all the way back to the "˜60s with a mention in an episode of Flipper called "The Ditching," but I can't seem to verify this one.

gannon5. Gannon Car Rentals. Speaking of Lost, Gannon Car ads were featured in back-to-back episodes of Heroes and Lost, which led to a lot of speculation among fans that the two shows were somehow connected. This would be pretty much unprecedented, since the shows are on two different networks. Reps for both shows have denied that they the shows tie together but did say that they often chat with one another and are inspired by one another.

"¢ Gannon pamphlets can be found in at least four episodes of Heroes.
Lost fans will spot Gannon advertisements on the back of the Oceanic Airlines boarding pass folders "“ there are also pamphlets, too, and a Gannon advertisement at a soccer game in an episode with Desmond.

SPYDER6. Finder-Spyder is the official choice when writers need a generic search engine. Sometimes the logo looks suspiciously like Google's, and sometimes it looks nothing like it. Here's where you'll spot it:

"¢ In at least six episodes of Prison Break, including the pilot.
"¢ On Dexter.
"¢ Two Without a Trace episodes "“ "Baggage," where they look up a website that was left in a journal, and "Cloudy with a Chance of Gettysburg," where they look up info about Civil War re-enactments.
"¢ On Criminal Minds, when Megan Kane Finder-Spyders (doesn't have the same ring as "Googles," does it?) Special Agent Aaron Hotchner in the episode "Pleasure is my Business."

7. Mooby's, a franchise that features a tongue-in-cheek golden cow mascot, is all over Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse. Fans already know this, no doubt, but for the casual viewer, here's a reference guide:

"¢ In Dogma, you'll see the chain all over the place: Bartleby and Loki visit the Mooby headquarters, they eat at Mooby restaurant, Silent Bob wears a Mooby hat throughout the movie, and Rufus can be seen wearing Mooby pajamas.
"¢ In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, SB is still wearing his Mooby hat. A Mooby character gets shot during the backlot chase scene.
Clerks II features the clerks relocating to a Mooby location after their Quick Stop burns down.

ghostbusters8. 555-2368. Phone companies have reserved the "555" prefix from 0100-0199 for fictional purposes such as movies and T.V. shows. This happened because it started to become problematic when writers would make up "fake" numbers for their fictional purposes, only to have fans dial the number and disrupt a real person who hadn't intended for their number to be put out there for national use. This still presents a bit of a problem"¦ one of the most widely-used fake 555 numbers is 555-2368, which clearly falls out of the 0100-0199 territory. Here are a few references to the 555-2368 number:

"¢ The Ghostbusters number in the "Who You Gonna Call" commercial.
"¢ The number of the Guiler residence in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
"¢ Jim Rockford's number in The Rockford Files.
"¢ The motel room phone in Momento.
"¢ Baretta's phone number in Baretta.
"¢ Jaime Sommers' phone number in The Bionic Woman.

9. Acme is obviously associated with Looney Toons, but other shows and movies have picked up on the gag as well. The name originated because when the Yellow Pages were first introduced, tons of businesses started naming themselves "Acme" or "Ace" to get at the top of the listings. The Looney Toons' Acme and other Acme references poke fun at this (and some are referencing the Looney Toons Acme directly).

Calvin and Hobbes often referenced Acme on the box when Calvin was making transmogrifiers and other imaginative machines.
The Far Side used the company name in various comics, too.
"¢ Bullwinkle once pretended to sell Acme vacuums on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
The Simpsons makes reference on a somewhat regular basis, including during Itchy and Scratchy episodes.
"¢ The candy factory Lucy and Ethel work at in that famous episode is the Acme Candy Factory.
"¢ The detective agency in the Carmen Sandiego series is the ACME Detective Agency.
The Last Action Hero references Acme products.
"¢ Wally's Filling Station in The Andy Griffith Show sells Acme fuel.

10. 2GAT123. Next time you're watching something, keep a close eye on the license plates to see if you spot these numbers. It almost always appears on a California license plate and is used because California doesn't actually use the letter combination "GAT" on real plates. Another one you might spot is "2FAN321." 2GAT123 has been spotted in these movies and shows:

"¢ Beverly Hills Cop II
"¢ L.A. Story
"¢ Go
"¢ Pay It Forward
"¢ Traffic
"¢ Mulholland Drive
"¢ Beverly Hills, 90210
"¢ Charmed
"¢ Chuck
"¢ Curb Your Enthusiasm
"¢ Lost
"¢ Two and Half Men
"¢ The X-Files

This all leads me to today's questions. Where have you spotted these movie generics? And, if you were creating your own universe like the Tarantino-verse or the View Askewniverse, what would your brand be? Mine would definitely have to be Patton-brand something: my dog is named Patton and he's a total psycho with one brown eye and one blue eye. Perhaps brown and blue would be the color scheme of my ads. Anyway, leave a comment and let us know what yours would be! Also, here is a gratuitous picture of Patton:

patton

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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