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10 Things Walmart Has Yanked Off the Shelf

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1. Barbie's Pregnant Pal

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In 2002 Walmart cleared its shelves of Barbie's pregnant friend, Midge. The doll, which featured a removable stomach complete with deliverable baby, was part of Mattel's "Happy Family" set that also included her husband and son. However, customers complained about seeing pregnancy enter into Barbie's universe, and Walmart pulled all of the Happy Family sets from its stores.

2. A Shirt That Read "Someday a Woman Will Be President"

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In 1995 a Miami-area Walmart pulled this shirt from its racks after consumer complaints. The shirt, which featured the character Margaret from Dennis the Menace, ran afoul of "the company's family values," so it went back to the stock rooms. Eventually more reasonable, non-Stone-Age heads prevailed, and the shirt made it back onto the shelves after three months in limbo.

3. This Underwear

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Panties that say, "Who needs credit cards..." on the front and "When you have Santa" on the rear. The undergarments started showing up in Walmart's juniors departments in December 2007 and quickly started an Internet firestorm over the perceived message of using Kris Kringle as a sugar daddy. While the same joke would be fairly harmless on, say, a t-shirt, many women felt that its placement on underwear added a sinister sexual undertone aimed at adolescent girls. In response to the public outcry, Walmart pulled the offending underthings from its shelves.

4. Confederate-Themed Barbecue Sauce

Back in 2000, the U.S. had a similar debate about whether the Confederate flag should be flown over the South Carolina State House. That battle also spilled over into Walmart's grocery aisles. At the time, 90 Southern Walmart stores were marketing a mustard-based sauce created by Maurice Bessinger, an outspoken advocate of flying the Rebel flag over the State House and owner of eight Piggie Park restaurants.

During the flag debate, Bessinger replaced all American flags at his eateries with Confederate flags, a move that Walmart saw as objectionable and needlessly provocative, so the company yanked his sauces from its stores. (Don't feel too bad for Bessinger, though; it took nothing less than a 1976 Supreme Court intervention to force him to serve African Americans in his restaurants.)

5. Naughty Leopard Costume (for Toddlers)

KATU.com

Last Halloween, Walmart made headlines for selling and later pulling a "Naughty Leopard" costume that oddly didn't look all that naughty (or leopard-y, for that matter). Score one for parents not ready for the sexualization of Halloween creeping into preschool.

6. An Al Snow Action Figure

In 1999 Walmart put the brakes on selling an action figure featuring WWE hardcore wrestler Al Snow. Snow's wrestling gimmick at the time involved walking to the ring while carrying and talking to a mannequin head. Naturally, his action figure came with the head as an accessory, but two professors at Georgia's Kennesaw State University saw the inclusion of the head as a problem. They told the press that by selling the action figure society was "normalizing violent treatment of women. We are telling little boys that this is acceptable behavior." (Please, parents: don't ever give your sons the impression that carrying and talking to part of a mannequin is acceptable.) Following the outcry, Walmart quit stocking the Al Snow action figure.

7. Lad Mags

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If you're a frisky 17-year-old looking for the latest Maxim, Stuff, or FHM, don't head to Walmart. Back in 2003, the store banned the so-called "lad mags" due to their racy photo spreads and bawdy editorial content.

It's actually not all that uncommon for Walmart to give a single issue of a magazine an ax, too. In the past, the store has refused to stock issues of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition and a 2001 issue of InStyle that featured an artistic nude shot of Kate Hudson.

8. Music

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Walmart has long declined to stock any music bearing a parental advisory warning for explicit lyrical content, but the company's fastidiousness with regards to music doesn't stop there. When the store carried Nirvana's album In Utero, it changed the song title "Rape Me" to the less offensive (and less coherent) "Waif Me." Similarly, the store declined to carry Prince's 1988 album Lovesexy because of a fairly tame cover that featured a nude photo of the artist.

9. Superbad DVDs

mclovinWhen the comedy Superbad hit store shelves in 2007, it came with a little extra: a replica of the fake Hawaii driver's license used by the self-dubbed "McLovin'." Most movie fans would simply see this freebie as a little reminder of one of the movie's funniest scenes, but Hawaiian authorities simply felt it was a fake ID. Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann requested that Walmart pull the DVD from store shelves across the state, and the retailer quickly complied.

10. Cuban Pajamas

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Walmart's Canadian stores found themselves in a pickle in 1997. The Canadian subsidiary had begun selling Cuban-made pajamas at eight bucks a pop across our neighbor to the North, which enraged both the company's home office and the U.S. Treasury Department.

The stores quickly pulled the offending PJ's, which led to a second problem: this action may have violated a Canadian law that forbids abiding by the American embargo of Cuba. After the Ottawa government pointed out that Walmart could face a million-dollar fine for pulling the sleepwear from its shelves, the Canadian Walmart stores reversed the ban after one week.

Underwear and t-shirt images courtesy of Feministing.com. Portions of this post appeared in 2009.

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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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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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