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Where Did John Wayne Get His Walk?

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He was the quintessential cowboy, the all-American American, the symbol for "macho" all over the world. He starred in more than 170 films in an unparalleled almost 50 year career in movies. He was, of course, the one and only John Wayne, the "Duke" himself.

John Wayne's legendary career has been well-documented in many books and personal interviews, but one question still remains:

Why did John Wayne walk like that?

One person described the classic John Wayne walk by saying, "He looked like he needed to change his diapers." Slightly tipsy, slightly off-balance looking, rough, tough, and rugged. Why did the Duke walk with that trademark swagger?

Well, Wayne once said that "the women love it" in reference to his famous gait. But he himself never elaborated.

Several theories exist for Wayne's walk.

The "John Wayne walk" didn't happen overnight; he developed it over the years. John Wayne was a big man: most sources cite him as 6'4" (some say he was shorter and wore lifts, but others insist he was actually 6'5" or 6'6"). He had a long, lanky body; in his early films of the 1930s, he looks very stiff and a bit awkward, as if he doesn't know quite what to do with his body. He was hired because he looked and talked like a hero, but he didn't know how to move like one.

Slowly but surely, he learned to move in a very slow, deliberate way; his slow and deliberate walk was simply his way of controlling his body. By the time his body had filled out, the style was pretty much set.

Still, other theories for the walk persist:

Burt Reynolds claims Wayne used a Native-American walk: toe to heel, toe to heel.


Another theory says the Duke broke his leg before he hit it big, and that created his off-balance walk.


Some state that John Ford, Wayne's favorite director and close friend, taught him the "John Wayne walk."


Some simply say he wore his pants too tight.


Probably the most colorful—and fascinating—theory regarding the Duke's walk states that he based it on Michelangelo's statue of David. John Wayne loved the statue and based his walk, and his famous hand-on-hip stance, on the legendary statue. (At left, John Wayne in his famous pose, rendered in wax at Madame Tussaud's London. Photo by Flickr user Mario Sánchez Prada.)


But interestingly, two of Wayne's most famous leading ladies, Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, agree on one theory: John Wayne just had small feet!

Both actresses recall looking at Wayne's broad, hulking body and being surprised how little his feet were. (As a sidebar: I well remember my first-ever visit to the legendary Graumann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. I clearly remember marveling at how small John Wayne's boot prints were! I wear a size 9.5 shoe and the Duke's boot prints were much smaller than my feet.) Wayne's boot prints at Graumann's seem to reveal a men's size 5 or 6 foot.

So perhaps the explanation for the Duke's broad walk, one of the most famous walks in movie history, is the combination of a strapping, masculine body and tiny little feet.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.
Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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