Original image
new york public library

Awesome Vintage Posters from 15 Magicians 

Original image
new york public library

Magic has been enchanting and astounding people for a long time: Bending the constricts of reality with seemingly supernatural means dates back to before 50,000 BCE. By the late 19th century, magicians were performing for large audiences in theaters, and illusionists competed with one another for the spotlight by coming up with more and more elaborate acts. Posters were a popular way to advertise and set performers apart from their peers; even the most famous magicians needed flyers to draw crowds. The ads used bright colors and sinister imagery to capture the imagination of potential audience members. 

1. Harry Houdini

The Hungarian-born escape artist was known for squirming out of restraints. After repeatedly slipping out of handcuffs and prisons, the performer earned the moniker Harry "Handcuff" Houdini. As his fame spread, Houdini's acts became more and more elaborate: He allowed himself to be suspended in the air, submerged underwater, and even buried alive. He was featured in a number of movies that showcased his agility, strength, and dexterity.

Despite many rumors that his daring escapes were staged, Houdini was hellbent on exposing frauds. When he failed to contact his mother after her death, the performer realized that mediums and psychics preyed on the emotionally vulnerable. He would attend séances incognito, tearing off his disguise when he collected enough evidence to prove that the mediums were faking their spiritual connections. (You can read about his takedown of famous medium Mina Crandon here.) Then, he recreated the supposed mediums' Illusions and tricks for his audiences. 

2. Harry Kellar

A common theme on many magician's posters are imps, devils, and demons whispering the secrets of dark magic. Harry Kellar started that trend with his ominous portrait. One imp whispers magic tricks so mystifying, it makes his friend gasp. 

Some of these under-worldly tricks included levitating people and vanishing birdcages. Thanks to strong performances, Kellar became a household name. He was good friends with Houdini in his later years and served as the inspiration for the escape artist's stage name. 

3. Howard Thurston 

After Kellar retired, he symbolically draped his cape on the shoulders of Howard Thurston, naming him his successor. You can see the young magician was a big fan of the tiny red demon idea and used it several times. 

Thurston put on enormous shows that required eight entire train cars just to carry his props. His shows were lavish and spectacular, and often required large props, like a Whippet automobile that he would fill with women before making it vanish. 

4. Alexander Herrmann

Alexander Herrmann the Great was a friendly rival of Kellar and an inspirational figure to Thurston. The French magician was taught sleight-of-hand by his older brother after being whisked away without his parent's permission. After parting ways to work on his own career, Herrmann toured the world with his wife, Adelaide. 

5. Edwin Brush

Brush started as a sales manager for a clothing company, using magic tricks to help bring in business. He eventually realized that he could make a living that way and became a full time magician. As seen in the illustration, his mustache was groomed to turn up, making him appear more magical. 

5. Christian Andrew George Newmann

Newmann the Great was a mentalist who was known for hypnotics and psychic readings. One of his better known tricks involved driving a car while blindfolded (eek!). Above, you can see him navigating the world sans vision. 

6. Zan Zig

Here is a poster for Zan Zig, the least famous magician on this list. The illustration shows a variety of different acts, from levitation to conjuring spirits. 

7. Frederick Bancroft

Bancroft decided to become a magician after befriending Alexander Herrmann. Despite being from Minnesota, he used exotic imagery inspired by his trip through Europe and the East Indies. The ill-fated performer never really got his career off the ground and passed away as a result of typhoid fever at age 31. 

8. Theodore Hardeen

Hardeen was the younger brother of Houdini and used this affiliation to spring-board his career. Like his brother, the performer was an escape artist and was featured in movies.

9. Karl Germain

Originally spelled "Germaine," the Wizard dropped the E in the later years of performing. He developed a love for magic at a very early age and toured professionally by the time he was 20.

10. Eugene Laurant 

This magician, called "The Man of Many Mysteries," was known for elaborate illusions and chapeaugraphy (hat tricks). 

11. Claude Alexander Conlin

Alexander was a mentalist known for classic crystal ball readings. He was widely successful for mind readings and similar telepathic acts. The magician spent a large sum of money on printing high quality posters that often used bright red colors to attract attention.

12. Miss Baldwin

Miss Baldwin was actually two different people—Clara and Kitty Baldwin. They were the two wives of Samri Baldwin, who used them as assistants (at different times). He would blindfold the women and they would demonstrate their psychic abilities. Kitty, Baldwin's second wife, eventually left to pursue her own career, although she never found the same success she did with her former husband. 

13. Frederick Eugene Powell

Powell was the dean of The Society of American Magicians from 1922 to 1938. He toured with Imro Fox and Servais Le Roy under the name "The Triple Alliance." 

14. Servais Le Roy 

Le Roy was part of the Triple Alliance, but he was better known for the act he performed with his wife, Talma. The couple is featured together in the poster. 

15. Herbert Albini

If you learned anything from these posters, it's that the devil owns a lot of magicians' souls. 

The accomplished illusionist chose his surname after the musician, Frederick Baxter Ewing, who went by Lieutenant Albini. Ewing was apparently not too pleased, because he threatened to sue over the name and publicly disassociated himself from the magician.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.