Original image

The Quick 10: 10 Defunct Advertising Characters

Original image

We all know that Mickey Mouse is the figurehead for the Disney company and Ronald McDonald is the recognized face of his namesake fast food chain. But it wasn't always that way! Check out these 10 mascots that represented their companies before being replaced by the latest and greatest.

alice_wild_west1. Alice, The Walt Disney Company. Before the rodent ran rampant, Alice was queen. Not the precocious blonde girl in the blue frock from the cartoon, but a live-action Alice that starred in a bunch of comedic shorts. Alice was played by Virginia Davis.

2. Speedee, McDonald's. Before Ray Kroc took over McDonald's, it was owned by a pair of brothers named Dick and Mac McDonald, and they used a man with a hamburger-shaped head named Speedee as a mascot. He was supposed to represent their "Speedee Service System." Speedee was ousted for Ronald in 1963.

3. Milton the Toaster, Pop-Tarts. In the "˜70s, Kellogg figured there was no better way to sell breakfast pastries to kids than by using a talking appliance. Thus, Milton the toaster chatted up children and told bad jokes. You can witness such jokes here. Milton hasn't been around for quite some time now "“ it's rumored that Kellogg got a flood of complaints after they featured a commercial with a little girl giving Milton the Toaster a hug. It seems that responsible parents didn't want their kids getting quite that intimate with a hot electrical appliance. Go figure.

4. Mr. ZIP, the United States Postal Service. Some of us probably can't remember a day before ZIP codes were the norm, but back when they were a newfangled thing, Mr. ZIP was around to convince us that using those five little numbers would help the mail get around much faster. He was unveiled in 1962 and was mostly phased out before the "˜80s, but he could still be found on the selvage of a block of stamps until about 1986.

PETE5. Pizza Hut Pete, Pizza Hut. Pete was really the first mascot for Pizza Hut. He helped build the brand throughout the 70s but was more or less wiped out during the 80s in favor of celebrity endorsement deals. Some also think the Italian stereotype probably wasn't doing Pete any favors as we evolved into a more politically-correct society.

6. Frito Bandito, Fritos. Speaking of stereotypes, Frito Bandito was a rather offensive character used from 1967-1971. If he sounds suspiciously like Speedy Gonzales, it's because Mel Blanc did both of their voices. Frito Lay cleaned up the Bandito's image after the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee complained, but the character was finally laid to rest altogether in 1971 when national attention was brought to the situation via a House subcommittee hearing.

fidodido7. Fido Dido, 7up. Here's one that's making a comeback. Fido Dido was the mascot for 7up in the late "˜80s and early "˜90s, but I can only remember Cool Spot, Fido Dido's replacement. Just this year, Fido Dido was brought back to be PepsiCo's mascot for Slice outside of the U.S. Maybe we'll start seeing more of him if the campaign proves to be popular?

8. Cheetos Mouse. I'll be honest "“ I've always found Chester Cheetah mildly irritating and slightly sleazy. Like, if he was a real person as opposed to an anthropomorphic cat, he would probably wear way too much cologne and hope that you're the type of girl who is easily impressed by sports cars and his knock-off Ray Bans. That's why I would have welcomed the Cheetos Mouse, who debuted in 1971 and said much cuter things such as, "Hail Chee-sar!" You can see him in action here. He was retired in the late "˜70s or so, and Chester made his debut in the mid "˜80s.

9. Duracell Bunny. I know "“ you're thinking, "No, it's the Energizer Bunny." There were actually both. The Energizer Bunny was created to spoof the Duracell Bunny, and Energizer was smart enough to trademark the idea of a battery bunny before Duracell could stake their claim on the original idea. Duracell knew when they had been beaten at their own game and conceded the use of the bunny in the United States. However, you'll still see the Duracell Bunny in Europe and Australia, where Energizer prefers to use a human-like battery with big muscles as its mascot.

10. Gillette "“ Sharpie the Parrot. Not a very creative name, when you consider that his M.O. was to chirp, "How are you fixed for blades?" over the Gillette jingle of "Look sharp! Feel sharp! Be sharp!" This repetitive little guy made his debut during the first-ever televised World Series in 1952. I'm going to admit, I kind of love this commercial:

Do you remember any other mascots that once ruled the advertising roost for their brand?




Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]