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Posts Tagged ‘toys

“You want to know what a robot’s designed for”*…

 

In examining the history of famous robots, you’d be forgiven for overlooking a 1950s children’s toy named Robert.

Robert the Robot, who was a product of the once-mighty Ideal Toy Company, didn’t do much, at least compared to the standards set by science fiction at the time. Unlike the helpful humanoids of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Robert was just a 14-inch-tall hunk of plastic that could utter a few phrases, wheel around with a tethered remote control, and grip objects in his mechanical arms.

Still, Robert deserves credit for being the first plastic toy robot made in the United States, and the first toy robot to become [as your correspondent, a delighted recipient of Robert as a Christmas gift, can attest] an American sensation. He was the subject of children’s songs, enjoyed a Hollywood film cameo, and was quickly imitated by rival toy makers. He also preceded the industrial robotics boom by several years, capturing people’s imagination long before we truly understood what robots could do…

Before Rosie and R2-D2 became pop culture icons, a humble toy named Robert paved the way: “The 1950s Toy Robot Sensation That Time Forgot.”

* Daniel H. Wilson

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As we turn the crank, we might spare a thought for Rube Goldberg; he died on this date in 1970. A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology; his series of “Invention” cartoons used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profiled here.)

The self-operating napkin

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Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

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Written by LW

December 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Don’t Panic”*…

 

An excerpt from “An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Weirdest Panics, From A to Z.”  From Anti-Arcade Initiatives to Zeitoun Maries, we have been freaking out about nonsense nigh-on forever…

* Phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

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As we wallow in the weird, we might send freaky (if not altogether paniced) birthday greetings to John W. “Jack” Ryan; he was born on this date in 1926.  A Yale-trained engineer, Ryan left Raytheon (where he worked on the Navy’s Sparrow III and Hawk guided missiles) to join Mattel.  He oversaw the conversion of the Mattel-licensed “Bild Lili” doll into Barbie (contributing, among other things, the joints that allowed “her” to bend at the waist and the knee) and created the Hot Wheels line.  But he is perhaps best remembered as the inventor of the pull-string, talking voice box that gave Chatty Cathy her voice.

Ryan with his wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was his first only spouse; he, her sixth.

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Written by LW

November 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Note, to-day, an instructive, curious spectacle”*…

 

Domino builder Hevesh5 spent 25 hours over eight days building the pattern with 15,000 dominoes. The entire structure takes less than two minutes to come down as the chain reaction works its way along three separate paths at three different heights…

More at “Watching 15,000 dominoes fall in a triple spiral will make your day.”  And here it is in reverse:

* Walt Whitman

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As we line ’em up and knock ’em down, we might spare a thought for Frank Hornby; he died on this date in 1936.  A visionary toy designer, he created the Meccano construction set (in 1901), a toy that used perforated metal strips, wheels, rods, brackets, clips, and assembly nuts and bolts to allow kids to build unlimited numbers of models.  A huge success, it spawned a monthly magazine– and U.S. competition (e.g., the Erector Set).  He introduced Hornby model trains in 1920 (originally clockwork and eventually electrically powered with tracks and scale replicas of associated buildings); the “Dinky” range of miniature cars and other motor vehicles was added in 1933 (spawning such competitors as Corgi, Matchbox, and Mattel’s Hot Wheels).

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Written by LW

September 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“There are optical illusions in time as well as space”*…

 

Since first stumbling onto an early type of image projector called a magic lantern over 40 years ago, Richard Balzer became instantly obsessed with early optical devices, from camera obscuras and praxinoscopes to anamorphic mirrors and zoetropes. Based in New York, Balzer has collected thousands of obscure and unusual devices such as phenakistoscopes, one of the first tools for achieving live animation.

The phenakistoscope relies on a disc with sequential illustrations to create looping animations when viewed through small slits in a mirror, producing an effect not unlike the GIFs of today. These bizarre, psychedelic, and frequently morbid scenes (people eating other people seemed to a popular motif) were produced in great volumes across Europe in the early to mid 19th century. Balzer and his assistant Brian Duffy have been digitizing and animating these discs and sharing the results on Tumblr since 2012…

Read more at “Newly Digitized ‘Phenakistoscope’ Animations That Pre-Date GIFs by Over 150 Years“; see more here.

* Marcel Proust

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As we go ’round and ’round, we might send (differently) animated birthday greetings to John W. “Jack” Ryan; he was born on this date in 1926.  A Yale-trained engineer, Ryan left Raytheon (where he worked on the Navy’s Sparrow III and Hawk guided missiles) to join Mattel.  He oversaw the conversion of the Mattel-licensed “Bild Lili” doll into Barbie (contributing, among other things, the joints that allowed “her” to bend at the waist and the knee) and created the Hot Wheels line.  But he is perhaps best remembered as the inventor of the pull-string, talking voice box that gave Chatty Cathy her voice.

Ryan with his wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was his first only spouse; he, her sixth.

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Written by LW

November 12, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you”*…

 

The Macaulay Library is the world’s largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings. Our mission is to collect and preserve recordings of each species’ behavior and natural history, to facilitate the ability of others to collect and preserve such recordings, and to actively promote the use of these recordings for diverse purposes spanning scientific research, education, conservation, and the arts.

Scientists worldwide use our audio and video recordings to better understand and preserve our planet. Teachers use our sounds and videos to illustrate the natural world and create exciting interactive learning opportunities. We help others depict nature accurately and bring the wonders of animal behavior to the widest possible audience. It is an invaluable resource at your fingertips.

This archive grows through the efforts of dedicated recordists who share their recordings with the community. We encourage recordists around the world to contribute their recordings and data to what has become an irreplaceable resource…

Browse the collection and learn more about its work at Cornell’s Macaulay Library.

And explore more “sounds that never die” at “The Eternal Auditorium.”

* Chief Dan George

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As we peel our ears, we might spare a thought for John W. “Jack” Ryan; he died on this date in 1991.  A Yale-trained engineer, Ryan left Raytheon (where he worked on the Navy’s Sparrow III and Hawk guided missiles) to join Mattel.  He oversaw the conversion of the Mattel-licensed “Bild Lili” doll into Barbie (contributing, among other things, the joints that allowed “her” to bend at the waist and the knee) and created the Hot Wheels line.  But he is perhaps best remembered as the inventor of the pull-string, talking voice box that gave Chatty Cathy her voice.

Ryan with his wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was his first only spouse; he, her sixth.

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Written by LW

August 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If I see that again, I’ll take it away from you…”*

 

Artist and veteran teacher Guy Tarrant has assembled a collection of “Confiscation Cabinets” an archive of toys taken over the last 30 years from London schoolchildren in 150 different schools.

Tarrant became interested in the toys as tokens of resistance to school routines and teacherly discipline. He enlisted other teachers to donate their own confiscated items to his project. In all, he made eight such cabinets, which are currently on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in London.

Besides showcasing the creativity of some rebellious children—improvised pea shooters, World Cup finger puppets, and mix CDs feature in the collection—the grouping lets us see some differences between American and British toys.

One of Tarrant’s Boys’ Cabinets

One of Tarrant’s Girls’ Cabinets

A “Scooby doo” appears in the girls’ cabinet, and seems to be some kind of a friendship bracelet. In the boys’ cabinet, there’s a Sikh kirpan, or ceremonial sword, reflecting the large Sikh immigrant population in the UK. (Recently, Sikh advocacy groups have fought the confiscation of such items as a restriction of religious freedom.) And  there’s a “39’er,” which appears to be a “conker” (or horse chestnut) used in the traditional British kids’ game.

Technological change and fads also affect the makeup of the confiscated items, with Gameboys, Star Wars toys, and a grungy troll doll showing the march of time.

When viewed from afar, the girls’ cabinet is significantly pinker than the boys’, showing how gendered marketing reaches right into the smallest of items made for kids.

Read the whole story (and click through to larger images of the cabinets) at ‘s “A British Teacher’s Archive of Confiscated Toys.”

*  countless teachers, to their students over the years

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As we put away our playthings, we might send forcefully-metered birthday greetings to Kenneth Patchen; he was born on this date in 1911.  A poet and novelist who experimented with form (most notably, with incorporating jazz into his readings), Patchen was widely ignored by the cultural establishment in his lifetime; but (with his close friend Kenneth Rexroth) became an inspiration for the young poets–  Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and others– who became known as the Beat Generation.  In 1968, near the end of his life, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen was published– and Patchen was embraced by the Establishment. The New York TImes called the book “a remarkable volume,” comparing Patchen’s work to that of Blake, Whitman, Crane, Lawrence, and even to the Bible.  In another review, the poet David Meltzer called Patchen “one of America’s great poet-prophets” and called his body of work “visionary art for our time and for Eternity.”

The lions of fire
Shall have their hunting in this black land

Their teeth shall tear at your soft throats
Their claws kill

O the lions of fire shall awake
And the valleys steam with their fury

Because you have turned your faces from God
Because you have spread your filth everywhere.

– from “The Lions of Fire Shall Have Their Hunting”  The Teeth of the Lion (1942)

Allen Ginsberg (left) and Kenneth Patchen (right) backstage at the Living Theatre where Patchen was performing with Charlie Mingus, New York City 1959. Photo copyright © Harry Redl 1959, 2000.

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Written by LW

December 13, 2013 at 1:01 am

From scratch…

 

The 1961 series II Aston Martin DB4 is a certified classic.  So it’s no surprise that Ivan Sentch would want to create a scratch-built replica… but what is surprising is that, while he’s building the car on the platform of a Nissan Skyline GTS25T, he’s creating the Aston Martin body entirely with a 3D printer.

Ivan’s progress to date…

Read the background at Autopia, and follow Ivan’s progress on his blog.

[DB4 photo, via Bonham’s; Ivan’s body, via his blog)

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As we make room on the dashboard for the ejector button, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Peter Hodgson; he was born on this date in 1912.  An advertising and marketing consultant, Hodgson introduced Silly Putty to the world.  As The New York Times recounted in his obituary,

The stuff had been developed by General Electric scientists in the company’s New Haven laboratories several years earlier in a search for a viable synthetic rubber. It was obviously not satisfactory, and it found its way instead onto the local cocktail party circuit.

That’s where Mr. Hodgson, who was at the time writing a catalogue of toys for a local store, saw it, and an idea was born.

“Everybody kept saying there was no earthly use for the stuff” he later recalled. “But I watched them as they fooled with it. I couldn’t help noticing how people with busy schedules wasted as much as 15 minutes at a shot just fondling and stretching it”.

“I decided to take a chance and sell some. We put an ad in the catalogue on the adult page, along with such goodies as a spaghetti-making machine. We packaged the goop in a clear compact case and tagged it at $1.00”.

Having borrowed $147 for the venture, Mr. Hodgson ordered a batch from General Electric, hired a Yale student to separate the gob into one ounce dabs and began filling orders. At the same time he hurried to get some trademarks.

Silly Putty was an instant success, and Mr. Hodgson quickly geared up to take advantage of it…

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Written by LW

August 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

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