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6 Famous Advertising Dogs

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Gidget the Chihuahua, the famed Taco Bell mascot from 1997 to 2000, died of a stroke last week at the age of 15. While she settles in for a never-ending fifth meal at the 24-hour Taco Bell in doggie heaven, here's a look back at six other famous dogs in advertising.

1. Lady Greyhound

The Greyhound Corporation and running dog logo date back to 1930, but it was the introduction of a live mascot nearly 30 years later that helped establish the bus line as one of the leaders of the transportation industry pack. The company introduced "Lady Greyhound," a purebred Greyhound born in Clay Center, Kansas, on The Steve Allen Show in 1957. The white and gold dog with black eyes was just a 10-pound puppy at the time, but she would soon become the face of the franchise. By 1959, "Lady Greyhound," who often wore a rhinestone collar and tiara, had traveled across the country more than 50 times, making appearances at charity events along the way. She opened the new Greyhound terminal in Detroit by biting through a ribbon of dog biscuits, she posed for photos with Miss Universe Beauty Pageant contestants, and she was a regular guest on television shows throughout the country. The popularity of Lady Greyhound had waned by the early 1970s, but there's no denying the mark she left on the company.

2. Spuds Mackenzie

guru-timesSpuds Mackenzie, a white English bull terrier with a black mark around her left eye, was introduced as the mascot for Anheuser-Busch during a 1987 Super Bowl ad. (Though the Spuds Mackenzie character was most definitely supposed to be a male, the dog in the commercials was actually a female named Honey Tree Evil Eye. Scandal!) For the next 2 years, the "ultimate party animal," whose voiceover was provided by Robin Leach, lived the high life. In a series of wildly successful commercials, Spuds traveled the world with three beautiful Spudettes as the canine predecessor to Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World. One night Spuds was pole vaulting, the next he was playing the piano. Anheuser-Busch capitalized on Spuds' popularity by selling t-shirts, beach towels, and other merchandise bearing the dog's likeness. The campaign's success concerned some public interest groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who believed Spuds was being used to market alcohol to kids. Anheuser-Busch dumped the dog in 1989 when it debuted the Bud Bowl. Honey Tree Evil Eye died of kidney failure in 1993.

3. Nipper

RCA-nipperNipper, a terrier who allegedly got his name because he would bite the legs of visitors, lived a rather uneventful life in England from 1884-1895. Today, he's one of the most iconic dogs in the history of advertising. Three years after Nipper's death, his owner, English painter Francis Barraud, painted a picture of Nipper staring into a phonograph machine and titled it, "His Master's Voice." Barraud shopped the painting to the Edison Bell Company, one of the leading manufacturers of phonographs at the time, but was turned down. The Gramophone Company agreed to buy the image if Barraud was willing to alter the image to resemble one of its machines. Barraud happily agreed, the image was patented in 1900 and Nipper was celebrated posthumously in advertisements beginning in 1901. Since then, Nipper has been used to promote products for several companies, including Victor and RCA.

In 1990, RCA introduced a 2-month old puppy, Chipper, who has appeared alongside Nipper in various advertising campaigns for the brand since then.

4. Axelrod

axelrod
When it comes to your car, leave the worrying to Axelrod, the long-faced basset hound in the A-shaped doghouse. That was the gist of Flying A's advertising campaign during the 1960s, which starred the perpetually worried-looking hound pictured here. Axelrod, who lived in the "house that worry built," starred in several television and print ads for Flying A, a national service station business owned by Tidewater Petroleum. When Tidewater Petroleum's stations were purchased by Phillips 66 and Getty in 1966, Axelrod was retired.

5. Bullseye

bullseyeSince 1999, a white bull terrier with a target painted over his or her left eye "“ or is that a birthmark? "“ has served as Bullseye, the mascot for Target stores. One of the most recent Target dogs is owned by David McMillan, founder of Worldwide Movie Animals, a company that specializes in training animals for use in movies and commercials. Bullseye travels with her own makeup artist, who applies the target using nontoxic red paint, and trainer, and makes about two dozen appearances each year. When she's not in the spotlight, Bullseye lives a fairly normal life. "She has about 20 playmates that she runs around with," McMillan told the Anchorage Daily News during Bullseye's guest appearance at the 2008 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. "Otherwise, she's just a dog. She does a lot of lying around."

6. Ubu Roi

If you watched Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge or Spin City and didn't change the channel immediately after the last line of every episode, you're probably familiar with Ubu Roi. The black labrador retriever is the mascot for Gary David Goldberg's production company, Ubu Productions, Inc. At the end of Goldberg's aforementioned shows, a photograph of Ubu Roi holding a Frisbee appears. Off-screen, Goldberg says, "Sit, Ubu, sit!" and "Good dog!" before Ubu responds with a single bark. Ubu Roi, who is named after the 1896 satirical play by Alfred Jarry, died in 1984. Goldberg's autobiography is titled, Sit, Ubu, Sit.

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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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