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12 Vintage School Supplies You Can Still Buy

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amazon

If you're at all like me, the back to school season makes you incredibly nostalgic. Not for actually going back to school, of course, but for all the awesome school supplies you'd buy before hitting class. Thankfully, you can relive your elementary school glory days—and spice up your boring office—by buying these vintage back-to-school staples.

1. Trapper Keeper

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Trapper Keeper was more than just a school supply—it was a status symbol. The unchallenged MVP of school supplies has recently made a comeback: You can buy regular binders, outfit your tablet with a Trapper Keeper-inspired cover, or buy a vintage model on Ebay.

2. Lisa Frank Stuff

Back in the day, girls had to have anything and everything Lisa Frank: Stickers, folders, notebooks, and, yes, Trapper Keepers. Frank doesn’t venture out in public anymore, but you can still buy her stuff, from stickers to calendars to pens, on Amazon, and Lisa Frank-inspired costumes at Urban Outfitters.

3. Yikes Pencils

These pencils were so much better that your typical No. 2: They had personality, coming in many different shapes and patterns. As the 1993 commercial above points out, “you can’t look sharp with dull pencils.” They’re not made anymore (though there is a petition going to bring them back), but you can still find Yikes pencils on Ebay. They’re sure to be conversation starters around the office.

4. Erasermate Pens

It took Paper Mate more than a decade to develop the erasable ink used in Erasermate pens, which hit the U.S. market in 1979. The thrill of being able to write in pen and erase it if you made a mistake was undeniable when you were a kid. (It hardly mattered that most of the time there was some ink left behind even after you’d erased.) These days, of course, we hardly write notes—but when we do, they’re almost illegible. So you can whip these out, erase what you’ve written, and make your handwriting slightly more decipherable.

5. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers

These markers, which debuted in the mid-1960s, were on every kid’s back-to-school wish list. And not just because they were good for coloring: Sniffing these scented markers was a favorite activity—and every kid had their favorite marker, too. (Mine was raspberry.) Though these markers were off the market for a while, they’ve recently been reintroduced for this year’s back-to-school season. Pick some up and use them to give your memos a little something extra.

6. Gelly Roll Pens

The Sakura Color Products Corporation released their Ballsign pens, the first pens to use gel ink, in Japan in 1984. When they brought the pens to the U.S. in 1989, the company changed its product’s name to Gelly Roll, and the pens became a staple on mid-’90s back-to-school lists.

The company began trying to create a gel ink formula that they could use in early 1980. “In the beginning, we failed many times,” Shigeyasu Inoue, an original member of the team, recounts on the Sakura website. “Each time we developed a new prototype, a whole new set of problems would arise. We spent endless hours studying each problem, resolving them one-by-one. There were many ideas---many led to dead-ends. Others had merit, but could only be tried once we resolved other issues. It was a difficult process.” The team got close but still needed one ingredient to crack the formula; they tried everything from anything with the consistency of jelly—including agar, grated yam, and egg whites—before stumbling upon the food additive xanthan gum in a trade journal. They applied for a patent on the ink in 1982, then spent two years developing a pen that could be used with it.

The pens celebrate their 30th anniversary this year; you can get them all, from classic to Moonlight to metallic and beyond, right here.

7. Pencil Grips

These grips were supposed to adjust a child’s grasp so he wrote the right way—or at least make all those hours pressing a pencil to paper more bearable. But they came in so many cool shapes and colors that they made plain old pencils a little more fun. You can get ergonomic grips here and neon triangle grips (which is what I had!) here.

8. Multi-color pens

Why use a boring black or blue pen when you could have a pen that had four or more colors? These pens were prone to jamming back in the day, but current models—which we use here at mental_floss—work much more smoothly.

9. Pencil Toppers

Why did many elementary school girls choose to stick tiny nude trolls on top of their pencils? Who knows, but you can still get them on Etsy or eBay. If you’re not into trolls, there are plenty of other fun pencil toppers, too, like these ones that look like wild animals or these crazy, Koosh-like balls!

10. Pop-A-Point Pencils

Kids never had to sharpen these pencils: When they wore the point down to the nub, they simply pulled it out and inserted it into the back of the pencil, which pushed a new point forward. The new points were super sharp—almost enough to stab yourself! You could get them clear, with patterns, and even scented, and they’re available on Amazon right now.

11. Tiny Erasers

How useful were these super small erasers? I can’t remember, but I do remember that I could never resist buying them at the school store. Now you can get 500 for under $10 on Amazon.

12. Pencil Boxes

Elementary school kids stored all of their many pens and pencils in the iconic Spacemaker pencil box, which had a distinctive bumped top. Unfortunately, they’re not made anymore (although you can find some on eBay and Etsy), but you can still find plenty of options to cover with Lisa Frank stickers that will do the job just fine.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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