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8 Disastrous Product Names

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Times change, the meanings of words change, things get lost in translation. Whatever the reasons, over the years product-makers have hit upon some of the silliest and most unfortunate names for their wares imaginable, and even though many of these aren't available at your local corner store, they're still here for us to laugh about. The classic example may be the Chevy Nova, which in Spanish roughly translates to the Chevy doesn't-go -- though strangely, the accidental joke didn't significantly affect the car's sales south of the border. But we're just getting started.

1. Ayds diet candy

The honorary granddaddy of all disastrous product names has to be Ayds, an appetite suppressant "candy" which sold well in the 1970s and early 80s -- until the soundalike wasting disease we all know and fear hit the scene. By 1988, sales of Ayds had been so negatively impacted that the company changed the product's name (to "Diet Ayds," not much better), but it was eventually withdrawn entirely. Nowdays the product's slogans are easy fodder for dark humor: Ayds helps you lose weight, Why take diet pills when you can enjoy Ayds? or, my favorite, Thank Goodness For Ayds! Here's a now-classic commercial:

2. The Golden Gaytime Bar

Gaytime ice cream bars have been sold in New Zealand for decades, and through some trick of marketing genius, have weathered the gradual shift in the popular meaning of the word "gay" without much trouble. Here's how they did it. This is an old, I think completely unironic commercial for Gaytime ("it's so hard to have a gaytime on your own!") --

And here's a recent Gaytime ad, where they just unapologetically run with it, making fun of their own name:

3. Barf detergent

Barf is an Iranian line of soaps and laundry detergents. In Farsi, "barf" means "snow." You can also wash your dishes and your hair with Barf.

4. Sars soft drink

509843800-22b93e4663-tm1.jpgAn Australian company called Golden Circle has long manufactured a caramel-flavored Sarsaparilla drink, the abbreviated product name of which is "Sars." Believe it or not, when the SARS outbreak of 2003 hit, sales of Sars went up: its value as a novelty item apparently outweighed the negative associations.

5. Shitto

This product from Ghana is "a gravy made from dried pepper, smoked dried fish, dried shrimp power, a variety of spices, ginger, onion, garlic, tomatoes and seasoning." Since English is the official language of Ghana, it doesn't seem like this can be chalked up to unfortunate happenstance.

6. Pee Cola

pee_cola_2.jpgAnother product from Ghana, where they would have us eating Shitto and drinking Pee. Good Lord.

7. Fart Bars

This is too easy. Fart bars are candy from Eastern Europe. Do I even need to make a joke here?

8. Wack Off Insect Repellent

IR0002.jpgYet another Australian product, Wack Off cream is marketed as a "topical strength, water resistant gel -- as used by the armed forces!" Can you think of a better endorsement?

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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