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Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures

In the 1930s, a Mono-Named Mannequin Took New York by Storm

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Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures

Forget Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford. The most sought-after celebrity of the late-1930s was a mono-named socialite called Cynthia. She was invited to the most elite parties, including the posh wedding of Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII of England. She received freebies from Tiffany and Cartier. She had box seats to the Metropolitan Opera. She was featured in LIFE. She was also a total dummy.

No, really — an actual mannequin.

Cynthia was a 100-pound plaster clothes hanger designed by a soap sculptor named Lester Gaba. As one of Lester’s “Gaba Girls,” Cynthia was a new type of mannequin designed to be realistic — Cyn had freckles and different-sized feet — while not melting under the sun like wax models did. In order to boost his status as an artist and cement his place in the New York social scene, Gaba began squiring his creation around town as if they were on a date.

As you might imagine, people took notice. It probably didn’t hurt that Gaba was very close friends with Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s dad), so the quirkiness spread to the city's trendsetters pretty quickly. Cynthia was soon a mainstay at galas and dinner parties, where, in keeping with her real-girl status, people tried to chat her up. Gaba would apologize profusely, explaining that the blonde beauty had laryngitis.

Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images; See More Photos Here

Sadly, Cynthia met an untimely end when Lester Gaba went off to fight in World War II. Before he shipped off, Gaba decided that his main girl would take a sabbatical to Hannibal, Missouri, to live with his mother and de-stress from the frantic socialite life. Though she was on hobnobbing hiatus, Gaba left his mother explicit instructions to treat Cynthia like the star she was. She was to receive weekly beauty treatments, including styling at the best salon in town. It was there that, tragically, Cynthia slipped from a chair and shattered onto the hair clipping-filled floor below.

According to LIFE.com, newspapers reported Cynthia’s death as if a real person had died in an unfortunate accident. Though Gaba later recreated her and even installed equipment that allowed her to “talk,” he couldn’t recapture the magic. The country’s obsession with the plaster princess was over.

And if you’re wondering how the U.S. managed to get so worked up over such an empty object to begin with, well, Barney’s New York Creative Director Simon Doonan can explain:

“It’s not that big of a leap to go to a window mannequin from The Real Housewives of Orange County,” he told the New York Times in 2010.

C’mon. What does an artificial glamour queen with no brain and nothing to say have to do with... oh.

[via Gothamist]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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