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The Very First Issues of 19 Famous Magazines

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These magazines have come a long way since Volume 1, Issue 1. Here's what they looked like way back in the beginning.

1. Time

Date: March 3, 1923

The cover was a portrait of House Speaker Joseph G. Cannon. Content consisted of short news bulletins, an ad for All America Cables ("when time is short and minutes count use the direct cable facilities to Central America, South America, Cuba, Porto Rico other West Indies") and, strangely, imaginary interviews with Jack Dempsey, the boy Emperor of China, John D. Rockefeller, and Princess Yolanda of Italy.

2. People

Date: March 4, 1974

The cover nods to Mia Farrow's role in The Great Gatsby and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist ("a sermon nobody sleeps through"). Inside, the story of a female bail bondsman and a particularly insensitive item from the Medics column called "Two Fatties get a new kind of lock jaw" about two overweight women who had their mouths cemented shut in order to lose weight.

3. Wired

Date: March/April 1993

“The Rolling Stone of technology” published its first issue in early 1993 with a feature about war tech, a piece on what life would be like if our appliances had computer chip brains, and a jarringly prescient look at “libraries without walls for books without pages” a full decade before ebooks were a thing people had heard of. The full issue was released on iPad in 2013 for Wired’s 20th anniversary.

4. New York Magazine

Date: April 8, 1968

On the cover, "Tom Wolfe Tells if You're a Honk or a Wonk," and inside, ads for Chut-Nut (an "exotic colonial chutney") and Canada's plot to conquer the U.S. with their refreshing Red Rose Tea.

5. Sports Illustrated

Date: August 16, 1954

The cover was a photo titled "Night Baseball in Milwaukee," showing slugger Eddie Matthews mid-swing. "Duel of the Four Minute Men: Bannister surges to victory in the heart-stirring Vancouver mile" was the big story, but the best feature was an ad for A. Harris Company Velvet Jeans: "With rhinestones flashing, our famous jeans salute the Wonderful World of Sport." Available in Italian twill-back velveteen with black, red, royal, peacock blue, or tangerine(!) stitching for only $17.95.

6. Playboy

Date: December 1953
Hugh Hefner and his friend, Eldon Sellers, sold 53,991 copies of the first Playboy from a makeshift office in Hef's kitchen. The magazine, which was undated because no one knew if there would be a second, was enormously popular... thanks in no small part to Marilyn Monroe, who graced both the cover and the centerfold. And the articles, too, which everyone read.

7. Nintendo Power

Date: July/August 1988
The Konami Code! A guide to beating Mike Tyson! The names of all the Metroid weapons! It's all here. Nintendo's magazine had a good run, but shut down in 2012.

8. The New Yorker

Date: Feb 21, 1925

The New Yorker’s covers have been graced by the visage of dandy Eustace Tilley (nearly) every anniversary since 1926. The character was created for the magazine by Rea Irvin for the first issue. Also in that issue: short fiction (including “Say it with Scandal” and “The Story of Manhattankind”), a few pieces of nonfiction, and the magazine’s famous cartoons.

9. Esquire

Date: Autumn 1933

The first issue laid out the magazine's editorial mission: "Esquire aims to become the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men." The mag featured work by Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett and John Dos Passos, instructions on how to order properly at a restaurant, tips for achieving the perfect putt, and an essay titled "What a married man should know (About doing the marketing and getting his own breakfast and ducking all trouble in general)."

10.Rolling Stone

Date: November 9, 1967
Rolling Stone's first cover was much less controversial than their latest: it featured a photo from story about the Monterey Pop Festival and a brief mention of the Grateful Dead ("a photographic look at a rock 'n roll group after a dope bust"), with John Lennon in "How I Won the War" on the cover. In 1967, a subscription was $5 for 6 months or $10 per year.

11. Newsweek

Date: Feb. 17, 1933
The magazine formerly known as News-week started off with a snooze, featuring a compelling lead story titled "Easing Burdens of Debt and Foreclosure: Mortgagers, Ignoring Law, soon force virtual moratoria; Legislatures Prompt to Act; Congress Considers Measures for Early Relief of Hard Pressed Farmers, other home owners."  In a clever ploy to get people to actually purchase the magazine, they put Nazis on the cover. 

12. Life

Date: November 23, 1936

On the cover: a photo of Fort Peck Dam. Inside, an article titled "10,000 Montana relief workers make whoopee on Saturday night" and a center spread called "Black Widow," in which readers were reminded that "hardly a week goes by that some newspaper doesn't carry the account of Man Killed by Black Widow Bite. . ."

13. The Atlantic Monthly

Date: November 1, 1857
The "Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics" used their first issue to print Sally Parsons Diary, but sadly, no weird ads.

14. Variety

Date: December 16, 1905

Variety's initial editorial statement: "We want you to read it. It will be interesting for no other reason than it will be conducted on original lines for a theatrical newspaper." To that end, the first issue featured an array of articles covering fads among vaudeville managers, corks, a list of new acts, and a column called "Mick Norton's reminiscences."

15. Fast Company

Date: November 1995
The premier issue of Fast Company was ahead of its time, but looks older than its years in retrospect: a lead story about groundbreaking female tech leaders (“A Woman’s Place Is in Cyberspace”), a detailed account of “How Netscape Won,” and plenty of tips for people who love tech, business, and the ins and outs of corporate ladder-climbing — including a guide to career counselors and advice from the VP of Intel.

16. ESPN The Magazine

Date: March 1998
The inaugural issue of the cable network's magazine featured four athletes they felt defined the next generation: Kobe Bryant (then just 19), Alex Rodriguez, Eric Lindros, and Kordell Stewart.

17. Harper's

Date: June 1850

At 144 pages, the first issue of Harper's consists mostly of excerpts, poems, and articles culled from other sources. There was an illustrated fashion spread of tulip bonnets and straw hats for promenade, profiles (accompanied by illustrated busts) of T. Babington Macaulay, Archibald Alison, and William H. Prescott, an article titled "Women in the East," and an excerpt of Maurice Tierney's Soldier of Fortune.

18. Tiger Beat

Date: September 1965

Way back in 1965, a little mag called Lloyd Thaxton’s Tiger Beat debuted in the U.S., much to the delight of young ladies who hadn’t lost that lovin’ feeling for the Righteous Brothers. They shared the cover with a cartoon tiger and nods to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Mia Farrow and Chuck Berry. Lloyd Thaxton, for his part, was a co-founder and columnist. The magazine lives on in print, on the web, in the App Store. The most current issue features all eleventeen members of One Direction.

19. mental_floss

Date: 2001
Launched at Duke University by Will Pearson (our president) and Mangesh Hattikudur (our chief creative officer), the first issue pretty well established the kinds of things we'd cover in the next dozen years: dumb laws, sumo wrestling, and things you can't sell on eBay.

Adrienne Crezo and Bryan Dugan contributed to this story.

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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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May 23, 2017
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