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A Brief History of Princess Leia’s Buns

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Actress Debbie Reynolds once warned her daughter, Carrie Fisher, to be careful of roles that required “any weird hairdo.” Fortunately Fisher didn’t heed her mother’s advice, and chose to star as Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, a badass diplomat-turned-rebel leader who sports one of the most iconic “weird hairdos” in cinematic history.

How did George Lucas come up with Princess Leia’s buns?

Well, like a lot of the rich Star Wars mythology, he pinched them from somewhere else.

PAGING PANCHO VILLA

In 2002, Lucas told TIME Magazine that he was “working very hard to create something different that wasn't fashion, so I went with a kind of Southwestern Pancho Villa woman revolutionary look ... The buns are basically from turn-of-the-century Mexico.”

Which sounds like a well-considered explanation—except that finding examples of Princess Leia-style buns from turn-of-the-century Mexico on the heads of revolutionaries is really hard, as Kitbashed’s Michael Heilemann discovered when he began investigating Lucas’ claims.

Traditional Mexican hairstyles of the time tended more toward large braids piled atop the head, or the poufy Edwardian styles worn by women all over Western culture; Leia’s buns are big and poufy, but they’re not especially Edwardian, nor are they at all braids. “Which if you stop to think about it for a second, makes sense,” writes Heilemann. “When would revolutionaries find the time to put your hair up in two ridiculous buns, which are impossible, even with modern state-of-the-art hair product technology to carry for any length of time, if indeed you manage to tame your hair enough to play along to begin with.”

TWO BUNS, ONE STONE

Another possible inspiration for Leia's buns, one far more ancient than “turn-of-the-century Mexico,” is Spain’s Lady of Elche. The Lady, carved from delicate limestone, is the bust of a supposed Iberian princess (or priestess) some 2,500 years old; in addition to her intricate necklaces, she wears an elaborate headdress that looks a bit like the Millennium Falcon stuck to either side of her head. Did Lucas find his inspiration for both the Falcon and Leia’s hair in one trip to Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum?

SQUASH BLOSSOMS IN BLOOM

A more likely candidate for Lucas’ inspiration might be the young Native America women of the Hopi nation of the southwest United States (near Pancho Villa’s stomping grounds), who wore their hair in what were called “squash blossom whorls.” The whorls, which were achieved by coiling very long pieces of hair around flexible wooden forms, were typically worn by recently pubescent women as a symbol of fertility (though men were also known to wear the buns during religious dances). But even those buns don’t quite look exactly like the cinnamon rolls Princess Leia would later sport, as they seem to stick out too far from the head.

PARKING IN THE COOTIE GARAGE

Fast-forward 20 years, however, and you get something that’s a little bit closer: in those deeply relieved, freewheeling years following World War I, women—young women, particularly—who didn’t elect to lop off their hair still had myriad choices as to how to style it. This included, but was certainly not limited to, the “earphone” style, in which two braids were coiled into buns at either side of the head, usually over the ears, which made them resemble the headphones telegraph and telephone operators wore at the time (hence the name). Less charmingly, they were also sometimes referred to as “cootie garages” on account of the fact that they were supposed to be little shelters for lice. By the middle of the 1920s, the look was all but over (probably with the help of that unfortunate nickname), fully ceding the way to the bob which by then, in all its many incarnations—the Dutch Boy, the daring Eton Crop, Marcel waves—had been embraced by virtually everyone, from young flappers to older women.

BUNS IN SPACE

Though Leia’s style of bun laid fairly dormant over the next 50 or so years, Heilemann points out that it did get a bit of play in the 1955 film The Dam Busters, the remarkable true story of the RAF’s “bouncing bombs” of WWII; in the movie, they were worn on the head of scientist Barnes Wallis’ wife. Lucas, Heilmann claims, undoubtedly would have seen the film, given that it inspired the Star Wars’ Battle of Yavin, one of the first Rebel victories, and the one in which the first Death Star is destroyed. Since then, the hairstyle has largely remained the province of the sci-fi genre, with Heilmann pointing to Queen Fria of Flash Gordon fame as yet another precursor to Leia’s do.

Of course, once Fisher donned the buns in 1977 for Star Wars, it was all over; today it’s nearly impossible to not equate side buns with Princess Leia (Ariana Grande’s flirtation with “space buns,” which all sorts of mistaken headlines tried to relate to Leia’s buns, notwithstanding).

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOUR HAIRSTYLIST

Star Wars fans will note that the buns, though Leia’s most iconic look, are by no means her only outré hairstyle. Skepchick does an admirable job of not only chronicling Leia’s many hairstyles (which, despite Lucas’ claims, are definitely at least influenced by the times from which they came), but also pointing out just how difficult each one would be to achieve for real, un-Forced hair without a team of hair and make-up wizards—not to mention painful! Fisher famously hated Leia’s doughnut-like hairstyle, which took two hours to style every day.

While Fisher has confirmed that she will appear in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she has also sworn that she won’t be bringing her buns. “The buns are tired now, so no you’re not going to have the futuristic buns,” she told the crowd at this year’s Star Wars Celebration, before teasing that: “We have an alternate thing that I think you'll be into—that is not the metal bikini, I promise."

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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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.

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