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The 7 Best Worker-Training Music Videos

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By Carmel Lobello

To the uninitiated, there may seem to be few connections between big businesses and rap. But in fact, corporate behemoths have been producing rap and R&B worker-training videos for almost as long as the music industry has been producing regular rap and R&B music videos.

Here, seven of the best corporate instructional videos from the last 30 years.

1. Wendy's: Grill Skills

Someone with a Reddit account this weekend dug up this treasure: A Wendy's training video that starts as a cozy walk-and-chat with the restaurant's founder, Dave Thomas, but quickly evolves into a video inside a video inside a video, the deepest of which features a psychedelic rap song about how to grill burgers, complete with singing meat patty ladies with long black lashes.

2. Wendy's: Hot Drinks

Wendy's actually made a series of R&B videos in the mid-1980s, like this one, which lists the company's best practices for serving hot drinks in four verses — one each for coffee, decaf, tea, and hot chocolate. Yes, this means an entire verse is dedicated to explaining how to pour coffee into a Styrofoam cup.

3. McDonald's: Clean It

Sometime in that same decade — the year is unclear — McDonald's produced this impeccably choreographed take on Michael Jackson's "Beat It." It features a bizzaro Michael Jackson wearing a too-big white glove, who does the moonwalk while barking cleaning instructions at his backup dancers.

4. Nando's: Wrapper's Delight

Nando's more current, and somehow more uncomfortable, entry isn't so much a training video as a motivational tune to promote the franchise's new chicken wraps. Oh, and it's set to "Rapper's Delight." The most informative line in the song: "You know we take checkbooks, credit cards — all money."

5. Pier 1 Imports

In 2001, the pricey furnishings and decor company Pier 1 Imports got in on the action with this original rap video starring an excited skinny white couple and their necessarily black salesman. It's chock-full of awkwardly worded advice: "The key to the sale is to make a connection / Why not start with a humorous question?"

6. Once in a Blue Moose: Selling Is Service

This one, for Once in a Blue Moose, a gift shop in Alaska that sells everything from fine jewelry to moose-ear headbands, is a lot like the Pier 1 video, but with a really, really low budget. Which somehow makes it a lot more endearing.

7. Southern California Rapid Transit District: Bus Rapping

What do you get when you combine rapping, public transit, and a boss irritated by workers showing up late? Some pretty choice lyrics, that's what: "While you were out there gettin' your yucks, the public was out 5 million bucks / That's how much maintenance uses each year, to make up for workers who just ain't here."

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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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