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Posts Tagged ‘toys

“Our goal at DOOM! will be to consider a plurality of futures and then doing everything that we can to prevent nuclear war, oblivion and ruin”*…

Readers may recall a recent post featuring an essay written by GPT-3, a machine-learning language model: “Are Humans Intelligent?- a Salty AI Op-Ed.” Our friends at Nemesis (@nemesis_global; see here) have upped the ante…

The end of trends has been heralded by various outlets for years (see here, here and many more on our Are.na channel).

But COVID time is crazy. We had a hunch that the hype cycle itself was finally in its true death throes – related to economic collapse, popular uprising, a general sense of consumer fatigue, and the breakdown of a consensus reality in which such trends could incubate. Since trends are a temporal phenomenon (they have to start, peak, fade away, typify a time, bottle the zeitgeist, etc.) we began with a simple survey about the breakdown of narrative time, first circulated through our personal social media accounts…

Then we ran the same questions through an online survey distributed to 150 randomly chosen respondents, deployed in collaboration with General Research Laboratories. These responses, which will likely appear in a future memo, ranged from deeply personal to millenarian to an extreme form of ‘new optimism’.

Then our process took a crazier turn. In July 2020, OpenAI released GPT-3 for beta testing – a natural language processing system (colloquially, an “AI”) that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. K Allado-McDowell, writer, co-founder of the Artists + Machine Intelligence program at Google AI and friend of Nemesis, had started doing experimental collaborative writing with GPT-3. By exploring its quirks, K was already building an empirical understanding of GPT-3’s ability to articulate the nature of consciousness, memory, language, and cosmology… We were drawn to the oracular quality of the text generated by GPT-3, and became curious about how it could interact with the material we had gathered.

With the generous help of K – who had quickly become a skilled GPT-3 whisperer – we began feeding it our survey results, in the form of essayistic synopses that summarized the key points of the respondents and quoted choice answers. We left open-ended, future-facing sentence fragments at the end of these and let GPT-3 fill in the rest, like a demented version of Gmail’s suggestive text feature….

As we worked, GPT-3 quickly recognized the genre of our undertaking: a report concerned with the future written by some kind of consultancy, expert group, or think tank. So it inadvertently rebranded us, naming this consultancy DOOM!

What follows is a text collaboratively composed by Nemesis, GPT-3, K Allado-McDowell and our survey respondents, but arguably authored by none of us, per se. Instead you could say this report was written by the “third mind” of DOOM! which spontaneously arose when we began to process this information together with the conscious goal of generating predictions about the future. The outputs of our GPT-3 experiments have been trimmed, edited for grammar, minorly tweaked and ordered into numbered chapters….

An AI-written “report of the future,” eminently worthy of a close reading at (at least) two levels: “The DOOM! Report.”

* GPT-3’s renaming of and mission statement for its “client”

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As we welcome contemplate centaurs, we might we might send freaky (if not altogether panicked) 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.

 source

“There is a magic in graphs”*…

A New Chart of History
Joseph Priestley 1769, London
illustrates the succession of empires to give students a more global view of history across space and time. Vertical space indicates each empire’s significance, as assigned by Priestley. Click here for zoomable version

Data visualization leapt from its Enlightenment origins and into the minds of the general public in the 1760s. It cast more powerful spells throughout the following century. By 1900, modern science, technology, and social movements had all benefited from this new quantitative art. Its inventions include the timeline, bar chart, and thematic map. Together, these innovations changed how we understand the world and our place within it. Data visualization helped a new imagination emerge, wired to navigate a reality much bigger than any single person’s lived experience…

From the introduction to Stanford Library’s (more specifically, the David Rumsey Map Center‘s; @DavidRumseyMaps) glorious exhibition “Data Visualization and the Modern Imagination,” curated by R.J. Andrews (@infowetrust).

Visit the exhibition here.

* Henry D. Hubbard, in the preface to Graphic Presentation

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As we show and tell, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that Henry Winzeler founded the Ohio Art Company. Ohio Art began by offering metal picture frames, but soon settled into into two lines of business: toys (e.g., windmills and a climbing monkey) and custom metal lithography products for food container and specialty premium markets.

Those two themes merged in the very late 1950s, when Ohio Art acquired the rights to French electrician André CassagnesL’Écran Magique (The Magic Screen)– a drawing toy that allowed users to spin knobs to create line drawings, which could be erased by by turning the device upside down and shaking it. Ohio Art renamed it the Etch A Sketch… and it went on to sell over 100 million units and to earn a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

source

Written by LW

October 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Money laundering is a very sophisticated crime and we must be equally sophisticated”*…

 

money-wash

 

It’s bad form to mention money-laundering. Instead, you talk about asset-management structures and tax beneficial schemes.   — John Sweeney

This is the untold history of how prominent civil servants in the UK tailored US-devised anti-money laundering (AML) policies in ways that suited the needs of Britain’s financial services industry. In the aftermath of these initial compromises in 1987, criminal money managers in both the US and the UK were able to continue to operate in an environment that easily allowed them to hide and use dirty money. The researchers analysed six months of previously unseen personal correspondence and documents exchanged between various actors in the UK Government during 1987. From this they conclude that the core of the current, global AML regime, was not the destruction of drug money laundering and banking secrecy, nor the ending of criminal financial enablers and with it hot money; rather it was the protection and leverage of national trading interests on both sides of the Atlantic. And the drive to protect these interests would see crime control laws made, amended and changed to cater for the interests of the US and UK banking and finance industries. The file had been classified as secret and held by the UK Treasury until it was released to the public in 2017 as an archive document transferred to The National Archives in accordance with The Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act…

Mary Alice Young and Michael Woodiwiss tell the extraordinary story of governments effectively competing with criminal gangs at “A world fit for money laundering: the Atlantic alliance’s undermining of organized crime control.”

(Image above: source)

* Attorney General (1993 to 2001) Janet Reno… whose words can be understood, per the article cited above, in more than one way…

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As we follow the money, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that George B. Hansburg was issued a patent (#2,793,036) for his invention of “an improved pogo stick”– the modern two-handled pogo stick.

While spring stilts had been invented in 1891, the original pogo stick was created in 1920 by Max Pohlig and Ernst Gottschall– the first two letters of whose surnames gave the device its name.

Pogoanim source

 

Written by LW

May 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Amaze your friends!”…

 

timms_catalog_ventrilo_1938_retrospace

 

Flatulence humor goes back to the first known joke, recorded by ancient Sumerians. Since then, it’s lingered for thousands of years, wafting from Medieval illuminated devotionals to Shakespeare’s plays. So naturally, employees of JEM Rubber Company in Toronto, known for making tire repair patches, were delighted when they figured out how to turn its scrap rubber into literal windbags around 1930. They approached Soren Sorensen “Sam” Adams—whose S.S. Adams Company was responsible for giving the world Sneezing Powder and the Joy Buzzer—but the cushion that blows a loud raspberry was just a bridge too far.

“They came to Adams because he was a big producer of novelties, hoping to sell it to him as a product to distribute in the U.S.,” says novelties collector Mardi Timm. “But he was so incensed about the indelicacy of the joke that he refused it.”

Undeterred, the representatives of JEM took their fart joke to Alfred Johnson Smith, whose popular Johnson Smith & Co. catalog was a Bible for mischief makers, offering novelties, magic tricks, and popular pranks like trick cigarette cases and squirting flowers. “Mr. Smith looked at it and said, ‘What a great gag!’ and put it in his catalog,” Mardi explains…

This is the world of Stan and Mardi Timm. Perusing their collection of products sold by Johnson Smith and other novelty firms is an experience akin to Pee-Wee Herman’s gleeful romp through Mario’s Magic Shop, trying out squirting mustard bottles and buying trick gum… the Timms’ vast collection of roughly 1,800 artifacts, focused on items from the Johnson Smith catalogs from the early 20th century and beyond, is more than juvenile pranks—it includes cheap toys and quirky but practical inventions like flashlights, twirling spaghetti forks, and electric tie presses, as well as guides promising to teach valuable skills like detective work or jiu-jitsu.

“Novelties are so much more than goofy, silly things,” Mardi says. “Everything that comes on to the marketplace starts out as a novelty. They’re things that are not common, things that make you say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen one of those before!’ or ‘What is that thing?’”

The collection documents U.S. (and UK) popular culture from the mid-1910s through today…

timms_smoking_explosivecigaretteads

More– much more– at “Fun Delivered: World’s Foremost Experts on Whoopee Cushions and Silly Putty Tell All.”

* Boy’s Life

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As we ponder pranks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that Doogie Howser, M.D. ended it’s fourth and final season.  Created by Stephen Bochco and David E. Kelley (both rather better known for police, legal, and medical procedural dramas like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope, and Boston Legal), the series featured Neil Patrick Harris as the youngest doctor in America (“can’t buy beer… [but] can prescribe drugs”)… with a best friend– “Vinnie Delpino”– who was pretty surely a customer of Johnson Smith.

doogie and Vinnie

Doogie and Vinnie

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Written by LW

March 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

“By reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events”*…

 

paper_theaters_the_home_entertainment_of_yesteryear_1050x700

 

In the Regency era (early 1800s), live theater was so popular that it regularly inspired riots. In 1809, when the Covent Garden Theater tried to raise ticket prices, audiences were so incensed that they revolted. For more than two months straight, they shouted, shook rattles, rung bells, and even brought pigs into the theater to drown out the actors. The protest was successful, and the administration gave up on the price hike.

Meanwhile, crowds packed into the “blood tubs,” unofficial performances held in abandoned warehouses and holes dug into the ground. The typical fare included lewd songs, dramatizations of shocking local crimes, and twenty-minute abridgements of Shakespeare. The shows changed so frequently that the actors tended to make up the stories as they went along. The theaters were unlicensed, meaning that both audiences and actors risked imprisonment for participating. Nonetheless, the blood tubs were so popular that they sometimes gave as many as six performances a day to audiences of hundreds, most of them children.

Clearly, people were hungry for entertainment. And in this time before Netflix and YouTube, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring entertainment into the home: paper theaters. For “one penny plain, two cents colored,” you got a tiny cardboard stage about the size of a paperback book, complete with a proscenium arch, curtains, and sometimes even a paper audience. The characters were laid out on sheets of paper, frozen in dramatic poses: villains brandish revolvers capped with clouds of gunpowder, jolly sailors hook arms and dance, clowns emerge from barrels…

This short-lived children’s toy left… an enduring cultural legacy. Before Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, before Jean Cocteau directed his iconic, dreamlike Beauty and the Beast, before Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, they each acted out their big stories on these tiny stages. As the literary scholar Monica Cohens points out, Stevenson’s Treasure Island reads almost like a paper-theater drama writ large. Pirates were an unshakeable cliché of Victorian melodrama, and the grim tales of cruelty and violence that featured on the Victorian stage were brightened into candy colors in their miniature theater editions. Likewise, Stevenson’s dashing pirates come to us filtered through a sunny lens…

In the nineteenth century, enterprising toymakers developed a novel way to bring theater into the home.  An appreciation of the Dungeons and Dragons of its day: “Paper Theaters: The Home Entertainment of Yesteryear.”

* G. K. Chesterton

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As we revel in role-playing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that I Love Lucy premiered on CBS.  The chronicle of Lucy Ricardo’s (Lucille Ball’s) efforts to break into show business alongside her bandleader husband Desi (Desi Arnaz) via schemes hatched with her neighbors (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), it ran for six seasons, 180 episodes, it became the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run atop the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998).

A pioneer– it was the first scripted show shot in 35mm, the first ensemble cast, the first “three camera” scripted production– it created the template for sit-coms to come.  It won five Emmys and is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the ‘Best TV Show of All Time’ in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

ILoveLucyTitleScreen source

 

 

 

Written by LW

October 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

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