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Universal Pictures

4 Rom-Com Heroes Who Would Be Arrested in Real Life

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Universal Pictures

As I’ve said before, pop culture has traditionally been a particularly terrible place for people to go for advice about sex and romance. Things are slowly getting better, but the rom-coms and teen movies my generation grew up with portrayed romantic gestures as things that would warrant felony charges.

Let’s take a look at some of the worst movie role models for love, and be thankful we didn’t follow their leads.

1. Jake Ryan and Ted, 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)

People always defend this film by saying it’s 30 years old—well, so am I, and yet I manage to have a working understanding of consent.

It’s a shame, because the movie does a few things very well. Molly Ringwald’s Sam Baker is an awesome early example of a developed female character with her own point of view at a time when that was a rarity in teen movies. It’s also pretty great that Sam and Jake’s love story is primarily driven by Sam. And yes, “the Geek” (one of the earliest pop-culture uses of that term) is a pretty effective takedown of aggressive stalkery “seduction” techniques that are to be avoided by all.

But let’s be real about this. Jake straight-up hands his falling-down-drunk, barely-conscious girlfriend Caroline to Ted (after musing that he could “violate her ten different ways” but feels no desire to because he’s fallen for Sam). It’s strongly implied that Ted and Caroline have sex, i.e. without her consent. Caroline wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened but “thinks” that she liked it. She and Ted are now an item, and this is played for laughs against the contrast of Jake and Sam’s sweet first kiss over her birthday cake.

Look. I am an awkward, self-conscious Asian guy. I remember all of Geddy Watanabe’s scenes as Long Duk Dong very clearly. I still think the thing with Ted and Caroline is by far the worst and most unforgivable thing in this movie.

2. Knox Overstreet, 'Dead Poets Society' (1989)

Dead Poets Society is another film that hasn’t aged that well. While the advice Robin Williams’ Professor Keating doles out is, in retrospect, pretty bad, the worst thing about the film is its side plot with Josh Charles’ Knox Overstreet and his crush on Alexandra Powers’ Chris Noel.

Whatever your personal interpretation of “carpe diem” might be, “declare to all your friends that you will commit suicide if you can’t get a girl you just learned the name of” is not a particularly great one. If you must pursue this as a goal, following her into her classroom and reciting a self-penned poem about her in public is not a great strategy, particularly if you are given to turns of phrase like “hair and skin of gold” that make her sound like an Oscar statuette.

And, of course, if you don’t know a girl very well, caressing and kissing her while she is asleep is not just a bad idea but, in fact, a criminal act. Her boyfriend reacting with physical violence to this might not be very nice, but it would, in fact, be both predictable and justified.

3. Lester Burnham, 'American Beauty' (1999)

As much as this movie wants Lester Burnham to be a likable, sympathetic protagonist, he does a lot of things that are fundamentally terrible.

Winning an argument at the dinner table through physical intimidation, by impulsively flinging a plate against the wall? Not cool.

Randomly quitting your job and buying a Pontiac Firebird when you’re responsible for a daughter who’s going to college soon, then snapping at your wife and daughter for questioning this decision? Not cool.

Passive-aggressively masturbating in bed next to your wife and then angrily demanding she have sex with you when she objects to this? Not cool.

In addition to all this, the fact that he has been creepily lusting after his teenage daughter’s underage friend is presented almost as an afterthought. It’s his “redemption” when he stops seeing her as sexually available because she reveals her virginity, implying that whether or not it’s okay for him to have sex with someone who’s legally a child is based mostly on whether she's done so before or whether she’s “pure.” (Which is, you know, all sorts of messed up.)

Oh, and I know I’m the 50,000th person to say it, but it’s just a plastic bag.

4. Edward Cullen, 'Twilight' (2008)

While I understand that what we like in fantasy does not necessarily reflect our values in reality and so on and so forth, I just can’t help being creeped out by Twilight.

Despite the progress movies have made in rejecting the stalker romantic hero, this movie celebrates and elevates this behavior to literally supernatural levels. You know, to the level of breaking into her house, standing in her room watching her sleep without her knowledge, and steeling himself against touching her because it’s all he can do not to violently kill and consume her. (Later on in the series we get gems like Edward sabotaging Bella’s truck to keep her from going to a party where she’ll see Jacob, his rival, and this is treated as romantic rather than a criminal act.)

We don’t need a generation of young boys watching earnest YouTube videos about “How to Be A Boyfriend Like Edward Cullen” and actually taking the lessons to heart. Even Robert Pattinson, whose breakout starring role was playing Edward and who had a strongly vested financial interest in promoting the films, was unable to stop himself from publicly admitting that he found his character to be a “dangerous weirdo.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.