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10 Horrible Things We Do to Teddy Bears

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I would like to draw your attention to a horrible epidemic of toy abuse. Teddy bears are being treated like objects in that we find ways to hurt, maim, and destroy them in the name of recycling, art, politics, or even entertainment. It's not that Ursus teddius domesticus is an endangered species (quite the contrary), but do we have to treat them so badly? Let's check out a few awful things that humans have done to teddies.

1. Drop Them From Planes

A Swedish plane flew over the town of Ivyanets, Belarus, last July and dropped teddy bears. Thousands of bears rained down on the town, "bearing" messages such as “Belarus freedom” and “We support the Belarus struggle for free speech.” The storm of bears was traced to Studio Total, a Swedish ad agency, which performed the stunt free for the political group Charter 97. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, who Charter 97 refers to as a dictator, tried to keep the bear drop out of the news -to no avail, thanks to Twitter and other social media.

2. Use Them in Experiments

The winning entry in the Mad Science Fair at ConDor 2010 was Dr. Allison von Lonsdale of the Institute for Dangerous Research for her experiment called "Teratogenic Effects of Pure Evil in Ursus Teddius Domesticus." In the experiment, distilled Pure Evil was given to pregnant teddy bears to measure its effects on their offspring. The offspring, both miscarried and term, were "euthanized and mounted for display." The experiment is explained in full here.

3. Bottle Them

Canadian conceptual artist Iain Baxter&'s art installation called Animal Preserve(s) puts teddy bears and other beloved plush toys on display in specimen jars. Or are they just canned for later consumption? This installation was created in 1999, and has been copied by teenagers and other subversives ever since.

4. Make a Coat of Them

Artist Sebastian Errazuriz made a coat out of teddy bears in 2009. No doubt it was warm.

The Care Bears Coat by Instructables member scoochmaroo doesn't cover as much skin, but is more colorful. It consists of 45 Care Bears.

5. Turn Them into a Rug

Argentine artist Augustina Woodgate makes rugs from the recycled "skins" of donated plush animal toys. The effect is beautiful, combining the abstract feel of a crazy quilt with the thoughtful combination of colors that go into any work of art.

6. Toss Them

Throwing teddy bears can be cathartic, and it's for a good cause. The teddy bear toss is a tradition at hockey games in some areas of Canada and the United States, particularly around Christmas time. Spectators are encouraged to buy a teddy bear and bring it to a hockey game to toss on the ice. The bears are gathered up and given to hospitals and charity toy drives. Shown is the teddy toss at a Calgary Hitmen game in 2005.

7. Dip Them in Tar

Italian artist Mattia Biagi moved to Los Angeles and became fascinated with the La Brea Tar Pits. That led to sculptures made by dipping objects in tar. Teddy bears aren't his only objects covered with tar, but there are several of them.

8. Knock Them Down

Teddies stack themselves up and you knock them down. The game is simple, but your destructive nature causes mayhem for the poor toys!

9. Turn Them Inside-out

Zurich design studio Atelier Volvox created a collection of plush animals using old donated toys. They removed the skins, reversed them, and re-attached them inside out! The results, called Outsiders, are recognizable but somewhat creepy.

10. Disembowel Them

The Circus of Disemboweled Plush Toys includes, but is not limited to, teddy bears. They are displayed in the manner of a carnival sideshow, as if they were freaks of nature. View the entire collection at your own risk. The horror!

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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