CLOSE
Original image

5 Times Crayola Fired Their Crayons

Original image

By Paul Davidson

Cousins Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith introduced their first eight Crayola crayons in 1903. Since then, the world has changed, and so, too, have the names of their waxy creations. Be it ever-shifting societal, racial, or political atmospheres, these crayons of yore have a revisionist history unto themselves.

1. "Flesh" Crayons Change Their Name

While everyone acknowledges that the civil rights movement brought about great strides in American society, most individuals overlook the huge advances it brought to the crayon community. In 1962, Crayola voluntarily changed Flesh to Peach in an attempt to avoid any legal issues and encourage people to embrace seeing the world in black and peach.

2. Prussian Blue receives Icy Treatment

The Kingdom of Prussia (part of modern-day Germany and Poland) remained an independent state from 1701 to 1871, but the crayon dubbed Prussian Blue had a far shorter reign in the kingdom of colors. Introduced in 1949 alongside a cadre of 39 new cohorts, Prussian Blue was unceremoniously stripped of its name in 1958, after teachers continued to voice concerns that the crayon wasn't Cold War"“sensitive. Crayola hoped the color's new name, Midnight Blue, would help make it less political and certainly less useful in coloring Iron Curtains.

3. Indian Red was a nod to India?!

Introduced in 1958 with 15 additional colors (finally giving children 64 shades to work with!), this color was actually named for a pigment that originated in India. Over the years, teachers began to worry that children would see the crayon as a reference to American Indians' skin color. In 1999, the Crayola company changed the name to Chestnut—but that too came with a disclaimer. The crayon manufacturer warned children that, despite the famous song, these chestnuts should never be roasted over an open fire. Mainly because they soften and melt at around 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Eight Men Out: Colors Get Waxed Off

The year 1990 brought about the first forced retirement of colors in the house of Crayola. And just like that, old fogies Blue Gray, Green Blue, Lemon Yellow, Maize, Orange Red, Orange Yellow, Raw Umber, and Violet Blue were sent out to waxy pastures. They were replaced with new-generation colors including Cerulean, Fuchsia, and Dandelion, which were considered bolder, more vibrant, and more likely to boost your Scrabble® score.

5. Kindergarteners Get Drunk with Power

In celebration of Crayola's 100th birthday in 2003, consumers were encouraged to suggest new crayon names as well as vote out four crayon colors. The casualties of the Crayola tribal council were newer colors Blizzard Blue, Magic Mint, and Teal Blue, and the older Mulberry. These proud veterans stepped aside for such wildly creative crayons as Inch Worm, Jazzberry Jam, Mango Tango and Wild Blue Yonder—proving that allowing kindergarteners to have veto power over your marketing department isn't always the best idea.

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