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9 Innovative Outdoor Ads

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When I first saw this health club bus shelter ad with a scale built into the seat, my first reaction was, "That's brutal." But my second thought was it would definitely get my attention. Recently, I've seen quite a few examples of unique outdoor advertising. Here are a few of them...

Tryvann Ski Resort

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Tryvann Winter Park is fifteen minutes from the center of Oslo, Norway. And while Oslo is completely clear, it could be snowing like crazy at Tryvann. These unique bus shelter ads actually created a mini blizzard whenever it was snowing on the slopes.

McDonald's

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What do you get when you combine one golden arch with a reflective wall? These Australian bus shelters promoted the growing number of 24-hour McDonald's locations with a message that appeared only at night.

Folgers Coffee

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These NYC manhole covers for Folgers Coffee are actually a couple years old, but I remember liking them when I saw them, and the steam was a nice touch. Some people thought the smell coming from the sewer would decrease the ad's effectiveness, but that didn't bother me. Probably because I always want a cup of coffee. (The copy is small in this photo, but it says, "Hey, City That Never Sleeps. Wake Up.")

KFC

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To help spread goodwill and ease financial burdens for cities across the country, KFC sent letters to mayors nationwide, offering to fill their potholes in exchange for allowing them to leave a message saying the hole was "Refreshed by KFC." I have to admit, at first I thought this was a little obnoxious. Then again, if I drove on those roads, I might be OK with some KFC branding if it meant my car's suspension remained intact. The campaign was tested in Louisville, KY.

More McDonald's

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Here's another Mickey D's billboard. This one greets Chicago residents at the crack of dawn. For most of the day, this animated structure is closed. But between 6am and 10:30am, the egg cracks open to let hungry patrons know breakfast is being served. And speaking of McDonald's in Chicago, another billboard advertising fresh salads actually grew lettuce over the course of a few weeks. Seems like the local McDonald's brand managers are a fun bunch of folks.

Crisis

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In a classic example of the medium being the message, this UK homeless charity placed handmade cardboard signs throughout the streets of London, to remind onlookers that the recent snowfall may be beautiful to see, but it's a pain to sleep in. Sometimes low-tech works best.

LEGO

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Who doesn't love LEGOs, especially when they're thirty-feet long and weigh several tons? "Construction Site" is the title of this prize-winning outdoor advertising campaign, in which real construction sites were transformed into giant LEGO universes. And really, can you think of a better way to dress up a construction site?

Australian Childhood Foundation

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And this one's my favorite. In Melbourne, Stop Child Abuse Now used child-size mannequins to represent children suffering neglect. Mannequins were placed around the city with a poster pasted over the top of the figure that read, "Neglected Children are made to feel invisible." Seems like a really powerful "“ and probably very effective "“ way to get the message out.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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