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9 Baffling Movie Merchandise Tie-Ins

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Every summer, movie season collides with merchandising mania to create a perfect storm of licensed nonsense. We, the human race, have proven to Hollywood time and time again that we will empty our pockets for anything with our favorite movie logo hastily slapped on it. But at least most of that junk allows us to momentarily remember why we loved the movie: Thor’s hammer. A Star Wars X-wing toy. Then there are these.

1. James Bond Scented Candle

The James Bond Scented Candle is the triple threat of bad movie marketing:

1. Yes, James Bond has romanced many a lady, but he’s never been the “flowers, box of chocolates and scented candles”-type romancer. Bond’s trysts usually begin with gunplay, and end with a hot tub materializing somewhere nearby.

2. Is James Bond really the most romantic impression you want to make with your wife or girlfriend? Yes, he gets the ladies, but monogamy--not his strong suit.

3. What would a scented candle infused with the essence of James Bond smell like, exactly? My guess: gun powder and testosterone—which sounds awesome for a bachelor pad but not so much for date night.

2. Transformers Toy Shaving Kit

Let’s quickly rattle off everything that makes no sense about the Transformers Shaving Kit:

1. Robots don’t shave.
2. Kids don’t shave.
3. You can’t actually shave with this kit anyway. No blade (thank goodness), so you just pretend to be your favorite Autobot and shave your face like Optimus Prime did in the movie. Oh wait.

3. Matrix Reloaded Phone

The Matrix films take place in a distant future. We don’t know how far in the future, but we do know technology has advanced enough to create underground cities, hover battleships, battle mechs, working holograms, and, of course, a completely realized virtual world. Everything about The Matrix world is high tech. The Matrix phone, however, is quite the opposite. Released in 2003, The Matrix phone did indeed look like Neo’s phone from the movie (or a cheap toy facsimile, anyway). But that’s where its usefulness ended, because The Matrix phone couldn’t take pictures or play MP3s, didn’t have Bluetooth—it was completely barren of any of the cell phone technology of the time. So it’s just a toy, right? At $500, no way. This phone was so backwards technologically, marketers might as well have produced The Matrix Abacus.

4. Twilight Condoms

The entire Twilight series/franchise is basically a heavy-handed PSA for teen abstinence. Edward refuses to deflower Bella until they are properly married and follows a supernaturally strict abstinence policy. So a Twilight condom is in direct opposition to the overarching theme of the series.

Also, vampires don’t need condoms, being dead and all. (Not until book four, anyway.)

5. Dark Vador Burger

Nobody wants to eat a burger with a black bun. Nobody. (And sales of the Dark Vador [sic] burgers attest to that fact.) But there’s a deeper problem: the Dark Vador Burger made by fast food chain Quick (a European Burger King, essentially) was launched to coincide with the premiere of The Phantom Menace. You know, the Star Wars movie in which Darth Vader is still a kid, and a hero at that.

6. The Fight Club Jacket

In a movie that calls out rampant consumerism as a societal ill emasculating and enslaving mankind, it’s a tad odd to squeeze any kind of merchandising from the title, let alone a $165 leather jacket.

7. The Passion of the Christ’s Official Nails Necklace

This is just not a good way to commemorate the suffering of Jesus.

8. The Color Purple Teddy Bear

There is no defending this.

9. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Cereal

Making a Robin Hood cereal in the shape of arrows isn’t a terrible idea, but it isn't a great one, either. And when those arrows look very little like arrows and kids are eating bowls of suggestively-shaped cereal, you have a marketing flop.

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