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Mel Blanc: Man of a Thousand Voices

Although you may have never seen Mel Blanc's face, you've definitely heard his voice -- he voiced hundreds of classic cartoon characters including Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Barney Rubble, Foghorn Leghorn, and bunches more. Known as the "man of a thousand voices," he actually claims roughly 400 voices in the video below -- a late 80's interview with David Letterman (Blanc died in 1989).

In the interview, Letterman asks Blanc how he develops the characters' voices. Blanc replies, "They show me a picture of the character, and then they show me a storyboard which shows what the character is going to do in the cartoon. From this I have to create the voice. Like, Bugs they said was a 'tough little stinker.' So I thought, 'Which is the toughest voice in this country? The Brooklyn or the Bronx?' [speaking in Bugs Bunny voice] So I, uh, put the two of them together, and that's how I got the voice of Bugs, doc!" (Blanc's tombstone bears the motto "That's All Folks")

Watch as a master performs a few of his famous voices and explains his process. After the jump (below the video) is a partial list of his most notable cartoon voices, cribbed from Wikipedia.

  • Porky Pig (1936-1989, assumed from Joe Dougherty)
  • The Maxwell (Jack Benny's car in "The Mouse that Jack Built")
  • Daffy Duck (1937-1989)
  • Bugs Bunny's prototype/Happy Rabbit (1938-1940)
  • Bugs Bunny (1940-1989)
  • Woody Woodpecker (1940-1941)
  • Hiawatha (1941)
  • Cecil Turtle (1941-1947)
  • Tweety Bird (1942-1989)
  • Private Snafu, numerous World War II related cartoons (1943)
  • Yosemite Sam (1945-1987)
  • Pepe Le Pew (1945-1989)
  • Sylvester (1945-1989) aka Thomas (1947) in some films.
  • Foghorn Leghorn (1946-1987)
  • The Barnyard Dawg (1946-1989)
  • Henery Hawk (1946-1989)
  • Charlie Dog (1947)
  • Mac (of Mac & Tosh) (1947)
  • K-9 (1948) (sidekick to Marvin the Martian)
  • Marvin the Martian (1948-1989)
  • Sylvester J. Pussycat, Jr. Mel also plays Sylvester's son Sylvester Junior when the young cat was introduced (1949)
  • Beaky Buzzard (1950)
  • Curt Martin (1950-1 episode Hillbilly Hare)
  • Elmer Fudd (1950, 1958, 1970s and 1980s, replacing Arthur Q. Bryan)
  • Bruno the Bear (1951)
  • Wile E. Coyote (silent until 1952, first spoke in the short "Operation: Rabbit")
  • Speedy Gonzales (1953)
  • The Tasmanian Devil (1954-1960) aka Taz
  • Barney Rubble (1960-1989)
  • Dino (1960-1989) (Fred Flintstone's pet.)
  • Cosmo G. Spacely (1962-1989)
  • Hardy Har Har (1962-1964)
  • Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse (1963-1967)
  • Secret Squirrel (1965-1966)
  • Frito Bandito (1967-1971)
  • Bubba McCoy from "Where's Huddles?"
  • Chugga-Boom/Yak Yak/The Bully Brothers also from "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop"
  • Speed Buggy (1973)
  • Tucker the Mouse from "The Cricket in Times Square" (1973) and two sequels
  • Captain Caveman (1977)
  • Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)
  • Heathcliff (1980, appeared in syndication from 1984-1987)
  • Gideon from Pinocchio
  • Bertie Mouse (of Hubie and Bertie)
  • Marc Antony
  • Moo the Cow in Berkeley Farms Radio Ads. "Farms in Berkeley....Moooo"
  • Officer Short Shrift, several Lethargians, three out of five of the royal palace guards, The Word Speller, The Dodecahedron, and The Demon of Insincerity from The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)

You can read more about Mel Blanc at Wikipedia.

(Via Kung Fu Grippe.)

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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