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Every Product Billy Mays Ever Pitched

Billy Mays, America's favorite infomercial star, died three years ago today. He began his career selling the WashMatik, a car-washing brush that siphoned water through the bristles without electricity. He moved from that to the Ultimate Chopper, and some of his other products not featured here include The Ding King (dent and ding repair kit), Turbo Tiger (a hand-held minivac), Grip Wrench (an adjustable strap wrench), Green Now (fertilizer), and something called the EZ Crunch Bowl, which promised to be "A new way to eat breakfast cereal." Here are the rest of the products he pitched over the next 12 years, in no particular order:

Orange Glo

http://youtu.be/A2HTgXjH3SA

This was Billy's break-out pitch. He sold 6,000 units in 11 minutes (at $18 each) on the Home Shopping Network. He became HSN's go-to sales guy immediately afterward.

Awesome Auger

http://youtu.be/bLDXfYDAziI

Big City Slider Station

http://youtu.be/9KBXcpJfmj4

The best line of his entire canon, surely: "No more squishin' and squashin', flippin' and floppin'!"

DualSaw

http://youtu.be/65uKsgGS44M

"Big strong nothing," he says. Poor Matt.

ESPN360

http://youtu.be/8vUxHZ5EoPg

For when you want to watch sports, "but can't find a TV." Even his family likes it, so I guess video streaming is pretty great.

Flies Away

http://youtu.be/ZGGE-FiLUNQ

Lotta rhyming-ay in this one-ay.

Gopher

http://youtu.be/Cx3ZpRL0x7g

It reaches so you don't have to.

Grater Plater

http://youtu.be/WAp92zukjd8

You can grate asiago in it, ok. It's no ordinary plate.

Handy Switch

http://youtu.be/OKt9JvYNBxg

Hercules Hook

http://youtu.be/oVBCXeekpbA

Now that's super-strong.

iCan Health Insurance

http://youtu.be/c7d85T4OfqA

Not limited to household tools and gadgets, Mays took on the job of selling access to affordable health insurance for everyone.

Impact Gel

http://youtu.be/YoV2Bp_c7aI

Why am I smashing my hand with this hammer?!

The iTie

http://youtu.be/nGcn3N7DCMs

It's the only necktie that features a concealed pocket.

Jupiter Jack

http://youtu.be/p7yuoXU_QJs

The most convenient hands-free device for any cellphone, GUARANTEED.

Kaboom!

http://youtu.be/2NHHhIv3G1k

Ring around the toilet? You need Kaboom!

Mighty Mendit

Warning: The quality of this video will offend you. If you can find a better one, leave a link in the comments

http://youtu.be/LyTEKhkB8OM

Mighty Putty, Mighty Putty Steel, and Mighty Putty Wood

http://youtu.be/kyA1Viugxjw

All three in one Suoer Pack, in case you need to fix that drawer pull, tow a boat and lift a school bus.

OxiClean

http://youtu.be/ZTpXh33Mbeg

Powered by the air you breathe, activated by the water you and I drink. Classic.

Quick Chop

http://youtu.be/JpqiyFPdHZ4

Vince and his silly Slap Chop can't compete.

Samurai Shark

http://youtu.be/xPh-qgW8L4w

Tungsten carbide sharpening blades, people.

Simoniz Fix-It

http://youtu.be/F5M4EKnrQHY

Repairs scratches, dings and knicks ON CONTACT. Apply, and let dry. That's it!

Tool Band-it

http://youtu.be/TyYTYqIB3-Q

When two hands just aren't enough, reach for the Tool Band-It. A job that takes two, can now be done by one! THAT'S AMAZING.

Vidalia Slice Wizard

http://youtu.be/SG39UAd95bQ

7 different kitchen tools right in one machine. Even the food-processor inept can operate it. Try doing all that with a knife!

What-Odor?® Odor Eliminator

http://youtu.be/m40Oa2VzIVs

Sour milk. Moldy, rotten cheese. Cat urine!

Zorbeez

http://youtu.be/l25oCWDHnQI

The most absorbent material he'd ever used. Over 27 times more absorbent than cotton! You can even use them to dry your dog, guys.

Mighty Tape

http://youtu.be/st0SUrAG-D4

Mays' last commercial spot. By this time, he'd been selling everything from adjustable wrenches to deodorizer to... well, Mighty Tape.

What's your favorite Mays-approved product? I like Kaboom!, but I do remember that I broke my grandma's Gopher trying to lift a birdbath. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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!

Original image
iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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