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Not Your Parents' Action Figures

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Action figures began with Habro's introduction of G.I. Joe in 1964. Since then, they've become associated with the marketing of TV, film, and comic book characters. But those are just the ones you see all the time. If you look, you'll find just about anyone available as an action figure, which can spur imaginative play, fill out your collection, or give you bragging rights when your friends see them.

Steve Jobs


The tech world is talking about the new Steve Jobs action figure from Inicons that is eerily realistic. It comes with a ton of accessories, but no iPhone or iPad. Take a look at all the different poses the figure lends itself to. See more pictures here. It should be available in late February for $99.

Advertising Characters


About a year ago, Herobuilders saw the writing on the wall and introduced a line of action figures based on TV commercials. Here you see Mayhem from Allstate Insurance, Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, and the Old Spice Guy. All of them talk, too, giving you the lines and catchphrases from their ad campaigns.

Revolutionaries


Action figures of Karl Marx, Henry David Thoreau, Mao Zedong, and Lenin were put together in a set called Mountain Men by Mountain Research, sold by Couverture and the Garbstore. Just imagine what scenes you could play out with these -maybe a discussion on dialectical materialism? Unfortunately, this limited edition sold out quickly.

Crazy Cat Lady


Not exactly heroic or epic, the Crazy Cat Lady is an icon that many can relate to. Imagine the wonderful adventures you can have with her and the six cats that come as accessories!

The Brontë Sisters Power Dolls

I wanted this set of Brontë Sisters action figures, but alas, they were built specifically for this parody video, which was produced in 1998. However, you can get a Jane Austen action figure!

Albert Einstein


The mental_floss mascot, Albert Einstein, is also an action figure. It serves as an inspiration for those who appreciate the power of the brain. And who don't care about the perfect head of hair. The same vendor has action figures of Sigmund Freud, William Shakespeare, and Oscar Wilde in stock for $8. Or for $40, you can get a version of Albert Einstein that talks (even if he does look more like Mark Twain)!

Rosie the Riveter


She was an advertising icon, encouraging the home folks to get behind the war effort during World War II. Now she's an action figure! Actually, I found two versions. The figure on the left was sold by many vendors but has been discontinued. However, you can still find her here and there. There's also the version on the right from Eleanor's Girls that looks more like the kind of figure you actually play with. Check out the other Women of World War II figures on the same page.

President Obama


We first saw this awesome Barack Obama action figure in a series of poses on a Japanese website. It appears that it is still available through DID Corp. in China for $80.

Other Politicians


Herobuilders makes custom action figures, and they are known for producing action figures of who's who in the political world. Right now, you can order action figures depicting Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, Rod Blagojevich, Joe the Plumber, Hillary Clinton, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nancy Pelosi, as well as classics such as Dick Cheney, John McCain, and many different versions of President Obama. You'll even find some relatively obscure figures, like the "Don't Taze Me Bro" guy, Elliott Spitzer, Bernie Madoff, Jimmy McMillan, and Scott Brown.

The Big Lebowski


Movie characters don't have to be superheroes or science fiction characters to become action figures. They don't even have to be particularly active. If you relate more to The Dude or Walter or or Jesus or Donnie from The Big Lebowski, your action figures are waiting.

College Faculty


Dr. Jesse Weiss, a professor at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas, makes action figures of his friends and colleagues! He uses customizable action figure base units from a manufacturer that no longer supplies them, and sculpts the head and face to resemble the people around him. Weiss says:

“All it takes is a dremel tool, model paint, and Sculpey modeling compound for the hair, beards, glasses – and time.”

Weiss says he has plenty of spare parts to continue with his hobby. Image by Kaia Larsen/Times Record.

Me

CMT action figure

I'm not a really a superhero, I just play one on the internet. I was surprised to receive my own action figure as a promotional tool for a TV series. I still haven't taken it out of the box -not because I think it will be valuable someday, but because I know how my kids are with toys.

Your Very Own


You, too, can be your own action figure. Be A Doll makes custom action figures. Send in some good pictures or video, and money, and they'll make an action figure of you or someone you want to surprise! Don't worry, everyone gets a "slim, youthful body," but the face will be you.

As a matter of fact, these could be your parents' action figures - if they chose to collect them, or if you were to give them as a gift!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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