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11 Controversies Caused by Cartoons 

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For a medium that lends itself to silly subjects, cartoon controversy is more common than you might think. From toons driving drunk to WWII satire, read on for 11 eyebrow-raising animated moments.

1. Scooby-Doo: The horrors of being a size 8.

A new direct-to-video release called Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy finds the Mystery Machine gang in their natural habitat: a spooky old castle inhabited by a nefarious villain. When Daphne has a run-in with said villain, he hexes her with a curse that causes her to grow from a size 2 to a size 8—a size that’s still smaller than that of the average American woman.

When the Huffington Post asked Warner Brothers to comment on the insulting choice of curse, Warner Brothers stated that they believe the message is actually a positive one.

Although you are correct that Daphne becomes bigger in the course of the story, the message is actually a much more positive one. The plot of the movie involves the Scooby gang becoming cursed and losing what means the most to each of them. Fred loses the Mystery Machine, Shaggy and Scooby lose their appetites, etc. Daphne loses her good looks (mainly her figure and her hair). While Daphne is at first upset by the sudden change, there is a touching moment where Fred points out that he didn't even notice a change and that she always looks great to him. At the end, when Velma explains how they figured out the mystery, she points out that the curse actually DIDN'T take away what means the most to each of them: their friendship. The loss of Daphne's regular appearance is proven to be a superficial thing, and not what actually matters the most to her.

2. Pokemon: The episode that sent kids to the hospital.

In 1997, an episode of Pokemon sent nearly 700 Japanese children to the hospital. “Electric Soldier Porygon” included a segment where Pikachu uses his lightning attack to blow up missiles. Because Pikachu is in cyberspace at the time of the attack, the animators employed a different technique to make his usual attack look more high-tech. The strobe effect used ended up sending kids to the hospital with seizures, headaches, and other symptoms, a phenomenon later called “Pokemon Shock.” The episode has not been broadcast since.

3. Tiny Toon Adventures: The Toons drive drunk and die.

In this Very Special Episode that aired only once, the Tiny Toons explore the “evils of alcohol.”

After spotting a cold beer in the fridge, Buster cracks it open, sighing, “Nectar of the hops!” Shortly after sharing a single bottle, Buster, Hampton, and Plucky start slurring their words and develop beer guts, stubble, and bloodshot eyes. After getting rejected by the “Babes” they catcall, the tipsy trio steal a police car, drive it up a mountain, careen off the edge, crash into a graveyard, and die. Despite their bad behavior, they all turn to angels and float upward to the sky. You can see the first half above, or the entire thing here (with commentary). Though “One Beer” was only shown one time, it was included when the series was released on DVD.

4. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: 11 offensive cartoons.

In 1969, United Artists pulled 11 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies from rotation. They were all from the early ‘30s and ‘40s, and the ethnic stereotypes of the day were certainly represented. Even though the rights to the cartoons have passed hands several times since then, titles like “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow,” “Jungle Jitters,” “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” and “Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears” have remained under wraps.

They’ve been officially shown a few times for historical purposes, such as at the TCM Film Festival in 2010, and there’s some talk that they’ll be released as part of a controversial cartoon set at some point. Until then, some of them are available on YouTube. Here's 'Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears':

5. The Flintstones: Fred and Barney For Winston Cigarettes.

These days, cigarette ads aren’t allowed on TV at all, let alone in the middle of a children’s television show. There were no such laws back when the Flintstones were first on the air, and, in fact, commercials were usually placed right in the middle of a plotline or added at the end of an episode. It does help that The Flintstones was originally targeted at adults, not kiddos, but by today’s standards, it still feels weird. The mid- and end-of-show product placements have since been removed, but here’s a particularly offensive one for your viewing pleasure:

This one was apparently for Busch employees only and never aired on television, but it’s still entertaining.

6. Rocko’s Modern Life: Adult humor goes too far.

This Nicktoons staple was known for its grownup sense of humor, but an episode titled “Leapfrogs” took it a little too far. “Too far” happened when Rocko’s neighbor Bev Bighead declared that she needed “a little attention from a man once in awhile,” then proceeded to aggressively pursue her teenage neighbor, including trying to trick him into seeing her naked.

Execs said no way, and the episode was pulled.

7. Beavis and Butthead: America’s dumbest teens shoot down an airplane.

In “Heroes,” Beavis and Butthead manage to take down a commercial airliner while they’re haphazardly firing off guns in a field. The decision to pull the episode seems more relevant now than ever.

Another episode, “Incognito,” featured Beavis and Butthead bringing a gun to school. The episode was taken out of rotation years later, post-Columbine.

8. TaleSpin: WWII satire falls flat.

Originally airing on November 1, 1990, a TaleSpin episode called "Last Horizon" featured Baloo’s discovery of “Panda-La,” a nation that appears to welcome him with open arms. We quickly discover that Panda-La is only using Baloo to gain information about his hometown of Cape Suzette, which they intend to attack and conquer.

The negative Asian stereotypes represented by some of the characters and the episode’s similarity to events that happened during WWII caused “Last Horizon” to be temporarily banned. That being said, it’s aired on Toon Disney at least once since then, in 2002. Another TaleSpin episode called “Flying Dupes” has been permanently banned for its terrorist themes—Baloo is unwittingly asked to deliver a bomb to the Thembrian High Marshall. 

9. Darkwing Duck: The Devil takes DW’s soul.

In 1992, the Halloween episode of Darkwing Duck had DW and Gosalyn visiting Morgana McCawber’s magic school. While they’re there, a devil named Beelzebub decides to challenge himself by stealing Darkwing Duck’s soul instead of the usual used car salesmen and politicians. It actually aired a few times before getting yanked, and you can still see the whole thing on YouTube (and embedded above).

10. Pepper Ann gets away with a bunch of boob jokes.

In the season one finale of Pepper Ann, a gym teacher mentions to our title character that she’ll need some “support” to jump on the trampoline. Pepper Ann thinks the teacher means that she needs a bra; hilarity ensues. That night, Pepper Ann’s mother asks her if she wants breasts. She means chicken breasts, of course. At the next gym class, P.A. is asked where her support is. In response, Pepper Ann flashes everyone, which is when she is informed that “support” meant a “support buddy,” not a bra. Though most episodes of Pepper Ann were rated TV-Y (appropriate for all children), this one was rated TV-Y7 (directed to children 7 and older). 

11. SpongeBob Accused of Peddling Gay Propaganda

Perhaps the most scathing (and ridiculous) attack on this popular Nicktoon came in 2012, when the Ukrainian National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality argued that SpongeBob not only “promoted homosexuality” but was part of a “large-scale experiment” designed to transform the nation’s youth into “criminals and perverts.” See Also: 10 Controversies Caused by Nicktoons.

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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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