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11 Gas Station Premiums of Yesteryear

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Seaway China

It’s probably difficult to fathom now, but there was a time when the price of gasoline was pretty static for long periods and oil companies battled one another for the consumer dollar by attempting to instill some level of brand loyalty. How many of us today specifically seek out a Chevron station versus any other vendor when our gas tank needles are hovering just above “E”? That wasn’t the case some 40 or so years ago, when gas stations sought repeat business via Any Means Necessary. And among those Means were a variety of premiums or promotional giveaways. See how many of these tchotchkes you remember.

1. Union 76 Balls

Etsy user VintageUrbanAntiques

Union Oil introduced “76” gasoline in 1932; the name was intended to refer both to the Declaration of Independence and the fuel’s octane rating. Thirty years later, the company’s first illuminated rotating orange ball sign debuted at the Seattle World’s Fair. In 1967, the company introduced what is believed to be the first car antenna-topper. The small replica of the Union 76 ball was spray-painted orange by hand and then screen-printed with the “76” logo. Technology improved over the years so that the antenna balls could be mass produced by machine, which was handy because by 1985 the company was giving away just over a million of the toppers per year to loyal customers. 

2. Esso Tiger Tail

Pinterest user David Small

In 1959, a Chicago copywriter named Emery Smith came up with the tagline “Put a tiger in your tank” to promote the Esso Oil Company. Thanks to print and TV ads, the slogan caught on like wildfire, and Esso took full advantage of the cat’s popularity by offering faux fur tiger tails for sale at its retail outlets, which were designed to be attached to a vehicle’s gas cap.

3. Gulf Horseshoes

Time Passages Nostalgia

Gulf Oil was bought out by Chevron in 1984, but prior to that time the big orange Gulf “disc” sign was an iconic part of the American landscape. During its heyday, Gulf offered three fuel choices, at three different price points: Gulftane (sub-grade regular), Good Gulf (regular), and Gulf No-Nox (premium). No-Nox was marketed for the high-performance muscle cars popular from the 1950s to '70s; the high octane content didn’t necessarily add miles to the gallon, but it prevented engine knocks and pings. To promote the extra “kick” your car received from No-Nox, Gulf offered an adhesive set of horseshoes free with a fill-up. Rocking a pair of orange shoes on the bumper of your Camaro told the world that you cared enough for your ride to pay those extra pennies per gallon for premium.

4. Texaco Fire Chief Hat

Texaco introduced its Fire Chief brand of gasoline in 1932, so named because the octane rating met the requirements for fire engines. Over the years the company offered many versions of a fireman’s hat as a premium: Some cheap plastic versions were given away free with a fill-up, while some more elaborate versions (with a battery-operated light and microphone/loudspeaker) were available for a low purchase price.

5. Hess Trucks

PInterest user American Collector

The first Hess gas station opened in 1960 in Oakhurst, New Jersey. Four years later, the company produced a branded toy tanker truck (which could be filled with water and emptied via the delivery hose) in time for the Christmas season at the bargain price of $1.29, batteries included. The toy was such a hit that the company continued the tradition, producing a new model each succeeding year. 

6. Sinclair Dinosaur

Collector's Quest

Sinclair Oil registered the Apatosaurus as its trademark in 1932. At the 1964 World's Fair in New York City, the company hosted a display that featured nine life-sized dinosaurs, highlighting the beginning of the formation of crude oil. Dino, the company’s mascot, was featured on a variety of premiums, including plastic piggy banks so the kids could start saving up for their very first tank of Power X. 

7. Esso Oil Drop Man

Seaway China

The Happy Motoring Oil Drop Man was introduced as an Esso mascot in Denmark during World War II as a pleasant medium to deliver the bad news about ongoing fuel shortages. He debuted in the U.S. in 1958 and appeared on various giveaway items, including key chains and gift packages that featured a road map, a can of handy oil, and one of lighter fluid. Happy was phased out in the 1960s by the more aggressive Esso tiger.

8. Shell Presidential Coins

Listia

Long lines were forming at Shell stations in 1969, but not because of any gas shortages. It was the company’s Mr. President Coin Game that caused folks to flock to the pumps. Shell offered a series of 31 coins featuring the different Presidents of the United States (we had a lot less of ‘em back then) along with cards on which there were marked slots for specific coins. When you filled up a card, you won the specified prize. Some coins were instant cash winners—Martin van Buren was worth $500 and James Madison earned a cool $1000, while poor Chester A. Arthur only netted you a buck. Of course, in 1969, a dollar bought three gallons of gas pumped by an attendant who checked your oil and washed your windshield.

9. Gulf Lunar Module

Retroweb

To commemorate the Apollo 11 mission, Gulf gave away a free lunar module model kit in 1969. The cardboard sheet filled with punch-out pieces measured about 12 inches by 18.5 inches and came with a set of fairly complicated instructions for assembly. For those patient enough to fold all those pieces and insert the various tabs into the correct slots, the finished piece was an impressive replica of the lunar lander.

10. Marathon B.C. Comic Glasses

TGL Direct

In the early 1970s, Marathon Oil teamed up with Johnny Hart and gave away a variety of glassware featuring his B.C. comic strip characters. All told, there were 26 different pieces available, including a large glass pitcher. How many dads were sent out to the nearest Marathon station for an emergency fill-up when Junior accidentally broke his favorite Grog glass?

11. ARCO Toy Animals

Etsy user Tinselandtrinkets

In 1971, ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) decided to play on its name to get kids to bug their parents to stop at ARCO every week: they offered a plastic model of Noah’s Ark along with 12 different pairs of toy animals. If you’ve ever found a tiny plastic turtle in the far reaches of your junk drawer and wondered where it came from, it was probably part of this set.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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