CLOSE
Original image

11 Toys Worth More Than My Car

Original image

I drive a 2000 Hyundai Elantra with its factory original tape deck. It's in "fair" shape -- low miles but a lotta dents. MSRP for this thing was about $12,000, and Blue Book value is now around $3,500. Let's take a look at some literal children's toys that cost more than my car would sell for today. (For "Hyundai Values" listed below, I'm assuming that $3,500 figure -- though lots of these toys would have beaten my car even when it was new!)

1. A Marble with Teddy Roosevelt's Likeness - $4,500

Value: 1.3 Hyundais

Yes, a single marble is worth more than my car. This sulphide marble, made in 1900, has a porcelain head of Roosevelt inside it. According to Yahoo!, this tiny sphere sold in 2011 for $4,500 -- it's one of three in the world.

2. Canturi Barbie - $302,500

Value: 86 Hyundais

Bling BarbieJewelry designer Stefano Canturi created this Barbie doll featuring a pink diamond necklace. It sold for $302,500 at Christie's in New York. But this item wasn't just about the bling -- the proceeds were donated to breast cancer research. Here's a video showing how the doll's jewelry and outfit were put together:

3. Star Wars Ewok Combat Playpack - $5,998.98

Value: 1.7 Hyundais

Ewok Playpack

This toy set sold for about $17 in 1984, and it included everything you needed to stage a climactic battle between Storm Troopers and Ewoks. They weren't especially rare -- but kids actually played with most of them, making unopened sets surprisingly scarce. According to a collector, an unopened set sold for nearly six thousand bucks on eBay. This kinda makes me think twice about those guys with collections of unopened action figures -- maybe that's a sound investment after all.

4. Original G.I. Joe Doll Action Figure - $200,000

Value: 57 Hyundais

G.I. Joe Prototype

This prototype G.I. Joe "Toy Soldier" made in 1963 sold on eBay for $200,000 in 2003. It's the original article upon which later G.I. Joe models were based, and it has 21 movable parts -- so you can pose him very carefully in lots of positions, while your brain screams: "This doll is too expensive to play with!"

5. De Beers Barbie - $85,000

Value: 24 Hyundais

De Beers Barbie

In 1999, a commemorative De Beers Barbie was created to celebrate Barbie's 40th anniversary. It featured 160 diamonds on her gown. The price? $85,000. For a scantily-clad Barbie.

6. Steiff Limited Edition "Diamond Eyes Bear" - $193,000

Value: 55 Hyundais

Steiff Bear

Steiff makes teddy bears, and there are many Steiff bears that don't cost too much. But the company made a 125th anniversary bear featuring eyes made of sapphires and diamonds (with gold rims), gold-thread "fur," and a 24 karat gold medallion. I wonder if that medallion is a choking hazard.

Note: sources disagree on the final price for this bear; some say it's as low as $80k. I went ahead and picked a nice high one.

7. Urban Material Ch?gokin Statue - $20,000

Value: 5.7 Hyundais

Mazinger Z Statue

Spotted by io9 at ComicCon in 2009, this statue is made of titanium and carbon fiber. It stands about two feet high, and represents a character from the Mazinger Z manga series. (In the series, "Ch?gokin" is a fictional super-metal used to build a gigantic robot. Titanium is close enough for me.)

8. "El Retorno Del Jedi™" Spanish Luke Skywalker Figure - $5,100 (Including Shipping)

Value: 1.5 Hyundais

Luke Skywalker en Espanol

An eBay auction finished on June 14 for what is apparently "the rarest Star Wars figure in existence." It's sealed in its container, and includes his Jedi Knight™ Outfit (sorry, Vestimenta Caballero Jedi™) -- which looks to me a lot like a burlap sack.

9. "Astronaut B" PEZ Dispenser - $32,205

Value: 9 Hyundais

Astronaut B PEZ Dispenser

If you're a PEZ Dispenser collector, the "Astronaut B" model is your holy grail -- created for the 1982 World's Fair, this prototype with a green stem and white astronaut helmet was never produced as a mass-market toy. Only two prototypes are known to exist. One of them sold at auction for more than thirty thousand smackaroos. No word on whether a package of PEZ candy was included.

10. G.I. Joe "Manimals Vortex MOC C-7" - $20,100

Value: 5.7 Hyundais

G.I. Joe Manimals

Hasbro canceled its line of "Manimals" G.I. Joe figures before they made it to store shelves in the 1990s. The figures had Transformer-like abilities, and a variety of models were produced -- they just never made it to market. Collectors estimate that this "Vortex MOC C-7" that sold on eBay for more than $20,000 is one of only two unopened figures in the world.

11. NES Legend of Zelda Prototype Cartridge - $55,000

Value: 16 Hyundais

Zelda Prototype Cart

Rare video games have been setting price records for years. Earlier this month, all previous records were shattered when a prototype Zelda cartridge sold for $55,000. The seller had been shooting for $150k (the "Buy it Now" price), but settled for this record-breaking bargain price instead. The cartridge still works, and can still save games.

You can watch the video below for a bit more on the prototype, or read obsessive details about an earlier prototype.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image
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.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES