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12 Slams on Seinfeld

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For its first two seasons—and then occasionally throughout—Seinfeld was panned by critics for being too lame, too self-indulgent, too racist, too homophobic, too yuppieish, and too liberal. The now-revered sitcom was even questioned by those who put it on the air: The show is "too New York, too Jewish," NBC TV executive Brandon Tartikoff once balked.

Here are 12 other criticisms heaped upon Seinfeld, both after it debuted on July 5, 1989, as The Seinfeld Chronicles, and at its end, when it was considered "master of its domain."

1. Irrelevant Mayonnaise

"But lacking much in the way of attitude, the show seems obsolete and irrelevant. What it boils down to is that Seinfeld, likable as he may be, is a mayonnaise clown in a world that requires a little horseradish."

— Matt Roush, USA Today

2. Eh, Not An Inspired Piece of Television

"This five-episode summer diversion, which NBC has been kicking around for at least half a season waiting for the 'right time' to unleash it on the viewing public, is not what could be termed an inspired piece of television. There's none of the self-referential surrealism of It's Garry Shandling's Show that the show's premise—a comedian playing 'himself'—suggests there will be. The revolutionary concept here consists of cutting a couple of times per episode to Jerry performing his act at a comedy club where, naturally, everybody laughs at all his jokes. Theoretically there's some sort of—I hesitate to use the word—'counterpoint' between the stand-up material and what loosely passes for the plot. Now, Jerry Seinfeld is funny—in sort of an upscale, Jewish George Carlin kind of a way—but he's not that funny. The stand-up situations obviously aren't real, so it sounds like he's working a room of laugh-track machines. It would have been better, but too daring for NBC, to have him delivering jokes to an empty room, or to the camera."

— Rick Marin, The Washington Times

3. Winner of Title "Worst Pilot Ever"

"In the history of pilot reports, Seinfeld has got to be one of the worst of all time. I have it next to my desk; it says 'overall evaluation: weak.’"

Warren Littlefield, former NBC President of Entertainment

4. So Normcore

"...the more typical sitcom scenes of Jerry and his friends at common day locations were negatively received—as one viewer put it, 'You can't get too excited about going to the Laundromat.'"

— NBC Research Department Memo, via TV Guide

5. The Dreadful Future of Western Civilization

"Call me a hopeless Puritan, but I see, in this airwave invasion of sitcoms about young Manhattanites with no real family or work responsibilities and nothing to do but hang out and talk about it, an insidious message about the future of Western civilization."

— Elayne Rapping, The Progressive, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain

6. Mere Kids Playing with Media

Seinfeld is the "equivalent of sophomoric talk radio."

— Steven D. Stark, Glued to the Set: The 60 Television Shows and Events That Made Us What We Are Today

7. Pretentious Wannabe Theatre

"They think they're doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom."

— Roseanne Barr, comedian, quoted in David Wild's Seinfeld: The Totally Unauthorized Tribute.

8. Horrific, Tame, and Depressing

"Is horror too strong a word for what is, after all, only a depressingly insipid stand-up comic and his painfully tame sitcom? I don't know. […] These people are very depressed. Let me tell you, kids, being that depressed can be really scary. Thus the horror of Seinfeld. It leaves me that depressed. Not only depressed but lonely."

— Ron Rosenbaum, Esquire, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain

9. Gleefully Nasty Toward Women and People of Color

"Why do I find myself becoming uneasy about the show? Increasingly, it seems, Seinfeld wants to be about something, and that something is either painfully obvious or awkwardly jarring. […] The show has never been terribly concerned with political correctness. Its depictions of minorities, from Babu the Pakistani who was eventually deported because of Jerry's carelessness to the Greek diner owner with an apparent yen for amply endowed waitresses, can be patronizing. And its attitudes toward women can become downright hostile, as the final episode illustrated with its portrait of a gleefully nasty female network executive."

— John J. O'Connor, New York Times

10. Reagan-Era America At Its Worst

"Seinfeld is the worst, last gasp of Reaganite, grasping, materialistic, narcissistic, banal self-absorption.''

— Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, via Seinfeld: Master of its Domain

11. A Houseful of Completely Disconnected Yuppies

''Why don't the characters just move to penthouses on Fifth Avenue? How can they be playing smart Jewish people hanging out in a diner eating all the eggs they want for $3.99 when they are the most highly paid TV actors of the late 20th century? Why don't they just tie Jerry Seinfeld's compensation to how the Knicks do next year?''

— friend of NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd as quoted here.

12. A Cheez Doodle of Urban Fecklessness (Whatever That Means)

"The passing of Seinfeld, that Cheez Doodle of urban fecklessness, into cryogenic syndication inspires no tear in this cave. Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine never spoke for my New York, not on a Southern California soundstage, lean and mean in their terrarium, wearing prophylactic smirks to every penis joke."

— John Leonard, New York Magazine

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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