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13 Truly Outrageous Facts About Jem

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For better or worse, Jem and the Holograms will be back in your life again soon with a live-action movie hitting theaters in October. Though it only ran for three seasons, Jem had quite the cult following. Relive her glory days with these 13 facts about the fictional rocker.

1. The actress who provided Jem’s singing voice had never sung professionally.

Jem was actress Britta Phillips’ first professional gig. For her audition, she sang the show’s theme song—not only did she nail the audition, but producers liked this version so much they kept it as the one that was actually used in production.

2. But Jem’s speaking voice was provided by a professional singer.

As a trained singer who started her career at the ripe old age of 7, Samantha Newark has said, “It’s surreal sometimes to be known for Jem and not be known for the singing.”

3. Jem was a doll before she was a cartoon.

Hasbro had already created a couple of cartoon shows to market their toys—G.I. Joe and Transformers. Hoping to strike gold again with a female audience, the company created a doll they hoped would give Barbie a run for her money. They recruited Sunbow Productions, the studio behind the G.I. Joe show, who gave it to writer Christy Marx, because “they liked my work, plus I was about the only woman writer they had."

4. The Holograms’ last names were inspired by scientists.

According to Christy Marx, Hasbro had already chosen the characters’ first names. She had free reign over the surnames, however, and chose ones that corresponded with scientists who worked on holographic technology. Jerrica and Kimber Benton were named after Stephen Benton, the creator of the rainbow hologram. Aja Leith was named after Emmett Leith, the co-inventor of 3-D holography. (Jerrica and Kimber's dad was named Emmett.)

Pizzazz Gabor from the Misfits was named after Dennis Gabor, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing holography. Villain Eric Raymond was named after Marx’s brother, who, incidentally, had nothing to do with the development of holograms.

5. There are JemCons.

Fans' love for Jem hasn’t waned in the years since the show went off the air. Devoted viewers celebrate Jem and her outrageousness at the annual JemCon, which includes guest panels, vendors, entertainment, karaoke opportunities—and, of course, lots of cosplay.

6. There were some famous singers behind the other bands.

The Misfits’ Sheila “Jetta” Burns was voiced by Louise Dorsey, Engelbert Humperdinck’s daughter. Phoebe “Rapture” Ashe and Ingrid “Minx” Kruger of the Stingers got their singing voices courtesy of Vicki Sue Robinson, perhaps better known for her 1976 song “Turn the Beat Around.”

7. Jem originally had a different name.

Before she was Jem, she was simply “M,” which stood for music, metamorphosis, and magic. Instead of having an alter ego named Jerrica, M’s was named Misty. There are a number of reasons cited for why “M” didn’t stick, all involving copyright. Mattel might have complained because people would think an “M” doll was their creation; “M” might have run into copyright problems with “MTV;” and Hasbro was afraid Bette Midler would sue them since she was known as the Divine Miss M.

8. Barbie and the Rockers definitely weren't a response to Jem’s popularity … according to Mattel.

It’s long been said that Barbie and the Rockers were created because Mattel was threatened by Jem’s success and felt they needed to deliver a similar toy, right down to the ethnicities of the band members. Mattel denies this. “It would have been impossible to bring something out by the time we could confirm a rumor of that magnitude,” said Barbie’s marketing manager. “We introduced [Barbie and the Rockers] because rock ‘n’ roll is a big trend. Our Rocker dolls were in production long before we ever heard of Jem.”

9. Despite the success of the show, the Jem doll didn’t actually sell well.

Turns out Mattel didn’t have much to worry about. While the dolls were a huge success their first year, sales quickly dropped off. It’s speculated that one of the contributing factors was purely logistical: The box was poorly designed. The shelves in doll aisles in virtually all retail stores were designed to hold the 11-3/4” Barbie boxes—and Jem’s 14-1/2” packaging was way too large. To reconfigure shelving would have meant lost shelf space for retail stores, so instead, Jem and her buddies weren’t displayed as Hasbro intended.

10. So, Hasbro replaced Jem with “Maxie.”

Thinking they could still appeal to the Jem market, Hasbro later released a similar doll called “Maxie” who was nearly the same size as Barbie. They even tried creating a cartoon series for her called Maxie’s World, but it was canceled after just 32 episodes.

11. Hasbro wanted Jem to have a “social conscience.”

The cartoon touched on issues such as drug abuse and teenage runaways. After the latter episode, the phone number for a hotline for runaways was revealed. Christy Marx has said it resulted in at least two 10-year-olds returning home to their families. “We are forcing Mattel to create an identity for Barbie,” Stephen A. Schwartz, a senior vice president for marketing for Hasbro, told the Los Angeles Times. “Jem really has a social conscience. Her world is not about shopping and dating. She is a working girl, a woman of the ’80s. She’s an executive. She makes decisions. She has lots of pressure.”

12. Song lyrics were usually credited to “Kimber” and “Stormer,” but they were actually written by a veteran theater and TV songwriter.

But Barry Harman doesn’t have any hard feelings: “My job was to create songs that the audience would believe the characters had written. If people actually believed Kimber and Stormer wrote the songs, then we did a good job,” he has said. Harman has a lot of Jem lyrics under his belt—180 songs, to be exact, although several of them were never released.

13. Marx has just one Jem doll.

According to Marx, the only Jem doll she ever received was one her mother bought her.

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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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