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Lisa Frank, Facebook

17 Bright and Colorful Facts About Lisa Frank

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Lisa Frank, Facebook

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Lisa Frank was the epitome of cool. Here are a few things you might not have known about the brand, and the woman behind it.

1. THERE’S A REAL PERSON BEHIND LISA FRANK INC. ... 

Though Lisa Frank is rarely seen and doesn’t grant interviews these days, she is, in fact, a real person (you can see photos of her here). Frank grew up in Detroit and, as a high school senior, sold $3000 worth of her art at an art show.

2. … AND SHE LAUNCHED THE COMPANY WHILE IN COLLEGE.

Frank went to the University of Arizona to study math and art, and told told Urban Outfitters in a rare interview (granted in 2012, when the retailer began selling vintage Lisa Frank pieces online) that when she made the decision, “my dad said 'That's fine, but you're going to support yourself.' ... I am sure that if I failed, he would have been there for me, but it was a sort of a tough-love situation.” To get by, she started her own business, according to the Arizona Daily Star, by buying “pottery and jewelry from area Indian tribes and [bringing] them home to Michigan to sell. Once the network of artists she met grew, she began to represent them and sell their handmade work.”

Eventually, she started telling artists what to make—then decided to make things herself. She launched Sticky Fingers, which featured plastic jewelry, when she was just 20; according to Jezebel, it was sold in Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. 

In 1979, when she was 24, Frank renamed the company Lisa Frank Inc., because, according to the Arizona Daily Star, “her name was more familiar to those in the industry since her days representing artists.” In her first year of business, Frank sold a $1 million sticker order to Spencer’s Gifts.

3. ONE OF FRANK’S FIRST DESIGNS WAS A GUMBALL MACHINE. 

The design that started it all....Iconic Lisa Frank!

Posted by Lisa Frank on Tuesday, May 1, 2012

“The gumball machine comes from when I was little,” Frank told UO. “My dad gave me an antique gumball machine, so that was my original logo ... And also, you know how when your friends find out you're into something, they start sending it to you? So I probably have a huge collection of gumballs somewhere.” 

The company’s early designs, she said, “were very simplistic. The very first thing we made before stickers were buttons, and since they were so small, we did the artwork very small too.” Eventually, the line would expand to include pencils, stationery, folders, lunchboxes, backpacks, Trapper Keepers, and more. 

4. INITIALLY, ALL OF THE ART WAS DRAWN AND COLORED BY HAND.

When Rondi Kutz joined Lisa Frank as an artist in 1987, she did concepts for designs with markers, acrylics, and airbrushing. “All of the art back then was done by airbrush, although they did have one computer that the creative director was learning to use,” she told HelloGiggles. “Then the other artists learned to create the airbrushed ‘look’ art and started to do all of the illustrations on the computer by 1988-89.” Kutz, who eventually became Lisa Frank, Inc.’s Senior Designer/Product Development Group Leader and worked there until 2002, said that she “had no patience for the computer, so continued to do concepts as marker renderings, which then went to the computer illustrators to clean up and illustrate.”

5. MANY ARTISTS COLLABORATED ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS. 

“The artwork was a collaborative effort, but it all began with me putting it on paper as a marker rendering,” Kutz told HelloGiggles. “The concepts came from Lisa, James (her husband), or me, so I can say that some of the characters were my idea and original design. But by the time it went to an illustrator to redraw it, adding detail, then to the computer artist who rendered it on the computer (which entailed hundreds of hours of work), it had many artists’ stamps on it.”

Frank herself said that “We have to stop me and say ‘OK, it’s enough!’ Because one illustration can have hundreds of hours in it. It’s really kind of madness.” (“Lisa is fanatical about detail,” Kutz said. “But that is what makes her art so extraordinary.”)

6. FRANK HAS TWO FAVORITE CHARACTERS.

They're the rainbow print leopard and tiger cubs named Hunter and Forrest, “who are based off my kids!” Frank told UO. “Forrest is based on my 13-year-old, and Hunter is a 17-year-old character who was named the day Hunter was born. We had created both characters before the boys were born, and then when they were born, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they really do fit their personalities!’” 

7. MOST OF THE CHARACTERS ARE NAMED AFTER REAL PEOPLE … 

Naming two characters after her kids wasn’t isolated event: “We actually really try to base our characters off of people who are in our lives or who have been in our lives, and sometimes it's in memory. We ask people first,” Frank said, noting that she based two characters, Casey and Caymus, on her first golden retrievers. No one, Frank said, has refused: “People are actually begging us ‘Can you do a character with my name?’” 

8. … AND ONE EARLY CHARACTER HAS A SAD ORIGIN STORY.

Markie, one of Frank’s first characters, lives in the clouds above the Fantastic World of Lisa Frank (a.k.a. Airfluff Island), likes butterflies, exploring, collecting stars, cloud hopping, and dreams, and hates hesitation, bad smells, [and] bullies. Frank told UO that the unicorn was “named after a friend of ours who died super-young of a heart attack.” 

9. THERE’S A SPECIAL LISA FRANK INK. 

“We have a proprietary ink formula that I developed really early on so that everything would be brighter,” Frank told UO. “It's typical of a four-color process, but we use a special mixture to make those colors.” All licensees have to sign a confidentiality agreement because the mixture is a closely guarded secret.

10. ONE CHARACTER HAS A LOT IN COMMON WITH FRANK HERSELF. 

Though she said there’s “probably a little bit of me in each character,” Frank told Urban Outfitters that the character that’s a lot like her is Purrscilla, “because she is very into glam and glitz and jewelry and everything very girly.” The cat even wears illustrated versions of Frank’s own jewelry. Funnily enough, Frank said that she’s not a cat person—she prefers dogs. 

11. MILA KUNIS STARRED IN A LISA FRANK COMMERCIAL IN THE ‘90S.

She also appeared on the cover of the company’s fan magazine, Lisa and Me, in 1997.

12. THERE WAS A LISA FRANK CLOTHING LINE ... 

It came out in 2011 and featured the bright colors and characters synonymous with Frank; all pieces were under $20

13. … AND A COLLABORATION WITH ED HARDY.

The tattoo artist’s line of office supplies featured art by Lisa Frank Inc.

14. LISA FRANK’S HQ IS LOCATED ON S. LISA FRANK AVENUE IN TUCSON, ARIZONA.

"The World of Lisa Frank" - A Short Film from Scott Ross on Vimeo.

The street was initially named South Masterson Avenue, after Bat Masterson, a friend of Wyatt Earp’s. It was renamed S. Lisa Frank Avenue in 1997—a move that prompted a protest from American Airlines, which was also located on the road and didn’t find out about the name change until a new street sign appeared.  

Today, Frank’s 320,000 square foot facility, which features colorful characters inside and out, is mostly empty. According to a 2013 New York Times article, “Her factory, once bustling with hundreds of employees, has six staff members … Frank’s company, a victim of protracted legal battles over ownership and bad manufacturing deals, faded from popular culture—not an uncommon fate of the animal known as the retail fad.”

15. THE OFFICES HAVE A FIRE-PROOF VAULT.

There, the company stores copies of everything it’s ever made, plus the original artwork that was done before computers. Known as The Library, it holds thousands of products. “I think we made so many products because I get bored easily,” Frank told Urban Outfitters. “So as soon as we would master a category, I would want to do a different category. I'm trying to think what we HAVEN'T done. There is hardly something we haven't really done.” 

16. AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS A LISA FRANK APP. 

Lisa Frank Pic n’ Share allowed users to put Lisa Frank stickers on their photos. (Sadly for U.S.-based Frank fans, the app currently isn’t available here.) 

17. FRANK WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A THEME PARK.

“If I could do anything, I think a theme park,” Frank told UO. “Because the world of Lisa Frank really is a world. And I think before I die, we should have that world someplace, not just on paper. I think that would be pretty awesome.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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