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The Quick 10: 10 Hilarious Scathing Reviews

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Sometimes a thing is so bad there’s no way to say it nicely. Here are ten reviews that don’t even try.

1. The first season of American Idol ended with runner-up Justin Guarini clapping from the sidelines as winner Kelly Clarkson, under a shower of confetti, cried through “A Moment Like This.” Shortly thereafter the pair starred in their first and only collaborative film project, From Justin to Kelly, which was predictably not well received. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly summed up the awfulness pretty neatly, if not nicely: "How bad is From Justin to Kelly? Set in Miami during spring break, it's like Grease: The Next Generation acted out by the food-court staff at SeaWorld." No offense, SeaWorld food-court staff.

2. Leonard Maltin's complete review of the 1948 film Isn't It Romantic?: "No."

3. Movies and restaurants aren’t the only recipients of bad reviews. Take for example this review on RateMyProfessor that turned up on Reddit: "I dont wear my seat belt driving to school because I want to die before I can make it to this class."

4. A user review from Amazon for Dan Brown Angels & Demons: "I realize that a great many people like Dan Brown’s books and think he is a talented author, but then again there are significant numbers of people who enjoy being peed on or watching Carrot Top."

5. The artist formerly and currently known as Prince was unimpressed with some of Michael Jackson's work. "Michael Jackson's album was only called 'Bad’ because there wasn't enough room on the sleeve for 'Pathetic.'"

6. Roger Ebert is no novice at handing out bad reviews. Sometimes, he’s forthright. His review of North, which he hated: "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."


And sometimes, he’s witty with his disdain, as with his opinion of Larry David’s film:


“I can't easily remember a film I've enjoyed less. North, a comedy I hated, was at least able to inflame me with dislike. Sour Grapes is a movie that deserves its title: It's puckered, deflated and vinegary.”


7. Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce were friends, but that didn’t stop Clemens from being his unflinchingly honest and witty self when Bierce’s publisher asked him to review a book that needed a little extra publicity. Twain called Bierce’s Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California the “vilest book that exists in print,” just before he declared that “for every laugh that is in his book, there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit.”

8. Gore Vidal’s novel Myra Breckinridge didn’t adapt well to the silver screen. Filled with strangely euphemistic classic film clips and one especially, um, controversial scene, the movie was a critical failure and reviews didn’t bother with kindness. TIME said, "Myra Breckinridge is about as funny as a child molester." So you can take it out of your Netflix queue, probably.

9. Reinterpretations can be a risk, especially when crossing cultural lines. The Black Ensemble’s African-themed rework of Euripides’ Madea Medea was one such experiment that, at least according to Tom Boeker, wasn’t worth the risk. Boeker’s review in the Chicago Reader was a wholesale rant, but the highlights include calling the play “as phony and unexotic as a wicker coffee table from Pier One Imports,” and declaring that the actors are so unskilled that “if Benji were in this production, he wouldn't give a convincing performance as a dog.” To top it off, Boeker admits to a third-act suicidal fantasy: “When Medea finally got around to murdering her children, I entertained a final, desperate hope that one of those kids would grab the sword from her and rewrite mythology. But--abandon all hope--no deus ex machina will save you here”

10. L’Ami Louis is Paris’s “worst-kept secret,” a bistro so perfectly French that visiting Americans and Brits with plenty of cash on-hand are reluctant to tell their friends about it just to keep it hush-hush. But it’s not all that, according to a Vanity Fair review by A.A. Gill. From the décor (“painted a shiny, distressed dung brown”) and the staff (“paunchy, combative, surly men”) to the food (pâté that tastes of “pressed liposuction” and veal so unevenly cooked his companion “can’t decide which side to complain about”) and the check ($430 for two), Gill is so confounded by the restaurant’s cultish status that he asks, “Why do [Americans and Brits] continue to come here? They can’t all have brain tumors.”

What’s the funniest bad review you’ve seen? Or, leave your own biting assessments in the comments.

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