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8 Retro Airline Commercials

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The airline industry has undergone several upheavals and gut-punches in the past two decades. There was the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, the Air Traffic Controllers' strike of 1981, and the tragic events of September 11, 2001, to name just a few. But once upon a time airlines competed for customers not by price, but by services offered. Of course, throughout the 1970s, airlines earned the bulk of their revenue from business travelers (who were overwhelmingly male at that time), rather than families. Which probably explains airline why TV commercials of that era portrayed air travel as something of a Bunny Club in the sky"¦

1. First Class Toga Parties

For those who wondered what debauchery went on beyond that First Class curtain, Southern Airways laid the truth bare. Toga-clad stewardesses (they wouldn't become "flight attendants" for another decade or so) peeled grapes and served champagne and cracked crab for that select group.

2. Fly Maggie

National Airlines raised the hackles of feminist organizations with their "Fly Me" campaign. Both TV and print ads featured fetching flight attendants inviting potential passengers to "fly them." Exhibit A: Maggie and her two 747s. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure that one out.

3. Your Bags Will Arrive Safely. Got it?

I think the message this Eastern Airlines commercial was trying to convey was that your bags would always arrive with you at your destination. But"¦"My boys"? Spider? Rocco? Tiny? Is it just me, or does this whole commercial reek of "If you gotta complaint about de way deese mugs are handlin' your baggage, I've got a pair of cement galoshes fitted just for you"?

4. The Strip Tease

It's bad enough that Braniff International made their flight attendants change their outfits three times during a routine flight, but did they really need to promote that "feature" as some sort of in-flight striptease?

5. Hotpants

Remember what it was like before Southwest Airlines? You didn't have hostesses in hot pants. As Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up.

6. Take Your Mind off the Falling Engines

Several DC-10 airplane crashes in the late 1970s were traced back to design flaws in the aircraft, and for a short time the FAA grounded all DC-10s until the structural problems were solved. But pesky problems like engines falling off mid-air aside, doesn't that Friendship Room in coach class look inviting?

7. Coach Ain't What it Used to Be

Extra-wide seats and a steak dinner in Coach? That is old school. And why was such luxury available when flying east only? Did TWA presume that all their west-bound passengers were strictly the crunchy granola vegetarian types?

8. The Really Friendly Skies

This commercial dates back to 1958, but compared to air travel today, it might as well date back to the Stone Age. Look at the size of the lavatory, the restaurant booth-style seating areas, and the lobster dinner served on china plates. If I promise to dress in a June Cleaver-style suit while traveling, can we please return to this era for just a couple of weeks? Pretty please?

Read all past installments of Kara's TV-Holic series.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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