CLOSE
Original image
YouTube

Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue: The Biggest Anti-Drug PSA Ever

Original image
YouTube

You probably watched Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue, but there's a good chance you've repressed that memory.

In 1990, this anti-drug TV special was simulcast across all four major networks—the first-ever scripted program to do this—as well as various cable channels. It aired around the globe, and heads of state sat down to film introductions for their respective nations' versions. George H.W. Bush said before its debut that he wanted every child in America to watch it.

The cartoon cost millions of dollars to make and featured such legendary characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Smurfs, Garfield, Kermit the Frog, and more. Never before (and not since) have so many expensive studio properties appeared in one production together (it's said their licensing fees were waived). If that weren't enough, McDonald's (which financed it) handed out 250 million pamphlets promoting the special and its message. It featured a musical number from Academy Award-winning songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and even the vocal talents of George C. Scott. He played Smoke, the evil weed smoke monster.

Despite all this, Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue did not single-handedly win the War on Drugs. Why not?

The story centers around Michael, a 14-year-old marijuana addict who, drug habit nor not, is a real piece of work. He steals his darling sister Corey's piggy bank to feed his insatiable need for cannabis. This is when our cavalcade of animated All-Stars enter. They magically come to life and teach Michael a lesson about addiction and self-control. You can watch the cartoon in its entirety here:

The problem with the special is the huge cast of All-Stars itself. If there ever was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, this is it, and our nation's youth paid the price.

Alvin and The Chipmunks

These stars hide under Michael's bed and watch him break open Corey's piggy bank. They also snoop through his stash box and find his weed. Alvin and The Chipmunks are in the music industry, so let's not pretend they haven't seen a joint before. Simon quickly identifies the drug by the smell, saying it's "an unlawful substance used to experience artificial highs." Pretty rich sanctimony coming from the guys who came up with this.

Garfield

Garfield doesn't do anything in this entire PSA except make three jokes about lasagna. Clearly the events of Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue didn't happen on a Monday, or else the cat would've varied his schtick to mention that.

Winnie the Pooh

Winnie gives advice to Corey and tells her to talk to both her parents and Michael about his addiction. This is the same Winnie the Pooh who fiends for honey with such fervor that he routinely gets his head stuck in a jar. Go dole your advice out somewhere else, junkie.

Bugs Bunny

When Bugs meets Michael, the bunny is impersonating a police officer. He then kidnaps Michael, takes him in a time machine, and makes him observe the first time the teenager ever smoked pot. He also threatens Michael, saying, "What's up Doc...is your life!" Those are three felonies, plus one crime against Niven's laws of time travel. Bugs Bunny is repugnant.

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy

Oh good, the Muppets are here—they make everything better. Except these are Muppet Babies, and they take Michael on a roller coaster ride through his own brain. If you ever wanted to see Kermit the Frog screeching through an adolescent's parietal lobe while screaming, "YOU GOTTA TAKE DRUGS JUST TO FEEL NORMAL!" then this is your chance.

Daffy Duck

Daffy plays a clairvoyant and shows Michael an image of his corpse.

Come on, man, go easy on the kid.

Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Clearly shoehorned in here, but he is one of the few characters to issue positive reinforcement. "You're excellent just the way you are...without drugs!" Nice sentiment, but Michael is so terrified after riding a roller coaster through his own brain and seeing his corpse that the only response he can muster is, "HOW DO I GET OUT OF HERE???"

George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush

Bush 41 and Barbara Bush introduce us to the program. Bush was heavily involved in promoting Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue. He filmed a series of ads for it and endorsed the special during a speech to the television academy a month before it aired. Keep in mind, no sitting U.S. president who's supported Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue has ever been re-elected, so this was a big risk for him. It didn't pay off.

Dick Butkus(?)

This is a confusing one. The father, who looks just like former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, notices that some of his beers are missing. A Los Angeles Times article published before the special aired says that addiction experts were criticizing the cartoon because it failed to address alcoholism, something more prevalent in teens. It also mentions that the film was "still being edited" three days before it aired, raising the question of whether the father was thrown in as an afterthought to appease these critics. This would make sense because the issue with the beer is never fully resolved.

Alf

Alf gets way too much airtime in Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue. He takes Michael to a hall of mirrors to teach him one of the PSA's most valuable lessons: No matter how well you think you are doing, chances are you look terrible on the outside and that's all that matters.

Michael's Cool Friends

They try to give Michael crack in an arcade. They try to smoke crack in the park. The pretty girl in the nice hat steals Michael's wallet and runs off to buy more crack. These are the kids the All-Stars should be haunting.

Slimer, Baby Gonzo, The Smurfs, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, etc...

Most of these All-Stars just line up to take turns yelling at Michael. It's like an intervention in the most twisted circle of hell. If only Michael could have waited 23 more years, he'd be able to buy weed legally in Colorado and not have to be subjected to all this abuse.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES