The Late Movies: I Like Big...

Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1992 single "Baby Got Back" became a #1 hit, but not without causing a fair bit of controversy for its overtly sexual content. The video was even banned from MTV for a time. The song has permeated pop culture, making appearances in everything from Friends (Ross and Rachel's baby will only laugh when the song is rapped) and Charlie's Angels (Cameron Diaz's character, Natalie Cook, dances to it in her underwear) to family movies like Yogi Bear (2010), Shark Tale, and Happy Feet, despite non-family friendly lyrics. The song has also proved perfect for parodying; the following clips are just a sampling of the many parodies the hit has inspired.


The 1,161 students and 108 faculty and staff at Dowell Middle School in McKinney, Texas, produced this video, "I Like Big Books," to promote reading.

Another "I Like Big Books" video was created by a Ms. Rodriguez and Mrs. Huber to inspire their students at North Middle School to read.

David Petete's "I Like Big Books" is off his self-released album, The Off White Album.


This "Bacterial Plaques" version is for the more scientifically minded:


"I Like Big Buttresses" features "the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Thornstraw-Brook." (The creator admits "the technical stuff on this is bullshit...?")


Dan "Southpaw" Smith's "Baby Got Book" parody became an internet hit, racking up more than 2 million views on YouTube.


This teacher created "I Like Big Binders" in an attempt to get his students to carry their binders.


"Baby Got Math," with the line, "I like Pre-Calc and I cannot lie," was an extra-credit project for a pre-calculus class.


This gamer dedicates her World of Warcraft-themed parody to Granny.


The Parks at Hunter's Creek, an apartment complex in Orlando, FL, created this short clip to promote the size of the rooms in their apartments.

Other notable mentions:

  • "Table Be Round" on Robot Chicken, featuring an animated Sir Mix-a-Lot creating the Round Table for King Arthur (Warning: includes expletives, albeit bleeped, and an advertisement before it plays)
  • "I Like Big Butterfingers" by the "Butterfinger Defense League," a collaboration between Nestle and Sir Mix-a-Lot to advertise Butterfinger candy bars
  • "I Like Square Butts" was a commercial for Burger King, but it drew criticism for using a cartoon character (SpongeBob) to promote junk food and for objectifying women in a commercial aimed at kids
  • "Bill's Got Boat" by "Sure Floats-a-Lot" was a segment on Bill Nye the Science Guy back in the '90s
  • On an episode of The Simpsons, a rampaging Homer liked "big guts"

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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