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Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Hello Kitty

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You know her name. You've seen her signature red ribbon. And even though you're curious, you've never had the courage to learn more because you're not a seven-year old girl. Don't worry; your secret is safe with us. To help you out, we've come up with a list of everything you've ever wanted to know about Hello Kitty, but were too embarrassed to ask.

1. The iconic white cat is the primary spokesanimal for Sanrio, a Japanese company started in the 1950s to sell silk and produce.

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In the 1960s, they expanded their product line to include items that catered to the gift-giving tradition in Japan – usually small, simple objects that can be given to a friend for special occasions, holidays, or even everyday things like visiting their house. Most of Sanrio’s items at the time, like pencil cases and stickers, were geared towards elementary school kids and, almost by accident, they discovered that adding cute little designs and characters helped sales. When one of the in-house designers came up with Hello Kitty, the best thing company founder Shintaro Tsuji could say was that he liked it well enough.

2. Despite everyone calling her Hello Kitty, her name is actually Kitty White.

There is some debate as to how she got her nickname, though one theory points to her 1974 debut on a clear coin purse with her picture under the word “Hello.” Teenage girls were immediately drawn to “the Hello Kitty,” and the purse became a best-seller.

3. In Taiwan, there's a Hello Kitty Hospital!

© Christine Lu/Reuters/Corbis

Each bed sheet is branded with Hello Kitty, as are the nurses' uniforms. A giant Kitty statue greet guests in the lobby. According to a 2008 Reuters report, twice a year, people in character costumes come around and entertain patients.

4. Today, there are around 50 Sanrio characters gracing over 22,000 officially-license products.

On average, the company introduces three new characters every year, while at the same time taking a handful out of circulation for a little while so they don’t oversaturate the market. All told, Sanrio's annual sales hover around $5 billion dollars.

5. Hello Kitty and her pals are part of the kawaii (“cute”) subculture of Japan.

“Kawaisa” (“cuteness”) appeared on the cultural landscape in the 1970s, when teenage girls began adding hearts, rainbows, and smiley faces to their writing, and even spoke in a sort of baby talk manner. This fad caused quite a bit of controversy among adults, but was adopted by companies so they could connect with young people just as they were becoming a force in the consumer market. As people realized kawaisa wasn't going to bring the downfall of society, it became accepted and is now integral to Japanese culture.

6. There are a couple of urban legends about her origins that add a sinister connotation to Hello Kitty.

One story says that a controversial nuclear power plant hired Sanrio to create a cute corporate mascot that would help soften their image. Another legend tells of a married couple whose only daughter was sick with cancer. In exchange for her recovery, the parents made a pact with the Devil that they would create a character in Satan’s honor that would be adored worldwide. As you might have guessed, neither of these is true.

7. In 2007, it was announced that police in Bangkok would be forced to wear bright pink Hello Kitty armbands as punishment for minor infractions.

© Rungroj Yongrit/epa/Corbis

The plan was soon abandoned—according to NBC News, "There was a rebellion in the macho ranks, as well as outrage on Hello Kitty websites."

8. She's a clean slate!

Hello Kitty and many other Sanrio characters were designed without a mouth so that the character could take on whatever emotions the viewer needs them to have at the time. Some believe this is part of the reason they’re so popular across generations and cultures - anyone can relate to them. (It’s also one of the things that Kitty haters say creeps them out the most.)

9. She looks suspiciously similar to a certain white rabbit.

Image courtesy of JapanProbe.com

Almost since her introduction, children's author and illustrator Dick Bruna has insisted that Hello Kitty and her pals resembled the design of his own cute creation, Miffy. First published in 1955 — nearly 20 years before Hello Kitty’s debut — Miffy is a white rabbit with an oval head, small, black eyes and a tiny “X” for a mouth. Still, Bruna never officially challenged the designs until 2010, when he sued Sanrio for its character, Cathy, a white rabbit that is Hello Kitty's best friend. The timing was a bit strange, considering Cathy was introduced in 1976 and has been featured on thousands of products over the last 35 years, but the courts still ruled in Bruna's favor. Sanrio is appealing the decision, but for the time being, they're banned from selling Cathy merchandise in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

10. Hello Kitty has been featured in over a dozen video games, including her latest, Hello Kitty Online

Hello Kitty Online is a free massively multiplayer role playing game in the same vein as World of Warcraft. Players can adventure alone or join guilds to complete quests like finding all the ingredients for a special soup, delivering a pizza before it gets cold, or collecting wands that can be used to defeat monsters that guard treasure. There’s also the opportunity to build your own house, raise crops, adopt a pet, and customize your character’s wardrobe. For some of these perks, you’ll need to earn Sanrio Loyalty Points by posting videos, writing blog posts, and completing quizzes on Sanriotown.com. Or you can spend real money to buy Loyalty Points at an exchange rate of 80 points for a $1. To give you some idea of the price, a typical in-game house costs about $5, not including furniture, which is, of course, sold separately.

11. She's not just for kids.

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While most Hello Kitty products are made for children, as the brand’s customers have gotten older, Sanrio has catered to them with more adult-oriented products. For example, Fender guitars has featured a Hello Kitty Stratocaster, Neiman Marcus recently carried a collection of Hello Kitty jewelry with a top price of $5,000, Dr. Marten boots is currently selling a line of Sanrio shoes, and there are even Airbus airplanes with her image plastered on the side. There are also two high-end boutiques called Sanrio Luxe in New York's Times Square and in Manila, Philippines, which feature exclusive, expensive, rhinestoned-out products.

This shift to more adult products has been a bit controversial, though. Hello Kitty thongs, Hello Kitty Wine, and a “Hello Kitty Massage Wand” (AKA The Hello Kitty Vibrator), have been popular with adult female fans, but have been frowned upon by those who feel the brand should remain focused on its youngest followers instead.

12. Then there are the unofficial products.

Of course you can't be this popular without a few people jumping on the bandwagon. There are thousands of unofficial Hello Kitty products, like Hello Kitty bongs, Hello Kitty gas masks, and Hello Kitty handguns and assault rifles. There's even a Hello Kitty-themed S&M room at one of Japan's “love hotels,” where Japanese couples can rent a room by the hour for private encounters. Sanrio has tried to stop some of these copyright infringements, but there are so many that it's virtually impossible to keep up.

Meet the Cast

This epic world of cute fuzzy icons includes:

• Hello Kitty: Kitty White is officially 5 apples high, weighs 3 apples, lives near London, her birthday is November 1, and her blood type is A. (Blood type is apparently important in the Sanrio canon; you have to enter a blood type when creating your character on the Hello Kitty Online game.)

• Dear Daniel: Hello Kitty's unofficial boyfriend. His father is a famous photographer, which means the family has lived all over the world in places like Africa, New York City, and is now back in London. He’s an excellent dancer in styles ranging from ballet to hip-hop.

• Badtz-Maru: One of the few Sanrio characters marketed to boys, he's a spiky-haired, rebellious penguin born on April 1. He has a “watchdog” that is actually an alligator named Pochi. He was honored as the official mascot for the 2006 FIBA World Championship Basketball Tournament held in Japan.

• My Melody: A rabbit wearing a red hood, second in popularity only to Hello Kitty, she even has her own line of products not sold under the Hello Kitty banner. She loves baking cookies with her mother, eating almond pound cake, and her best friend is a mouse named Flat.

• Kuromi: My Melody's friendly rival, this white rabbit wears a black hood with a pink skull. She loves reading romance novels, writing in her diary, and eating shallots.

(And many more.)

13. Hello Kitty has quite a political career.

She has been a UNICEF ambassador to the United States since 1983 and to Japan since 1994. Then, in 2008, she was appointed as the official Japanese ambassador of tourism to both Hong Kong and China, the first fictional character to hold this title.

14. If you're a Scottish Sanrio fan, you can get a kilt made using the Hello Kitty tartan.

The pink plaid pattern was designed by Lochcarron of Scotland, the world's leading manufacturer of tartans, and was officially recognized by the the Scottish Register of Tartans in 2004.

15. Sadly, not all associations with Hello Kitty are sunshine and rainbows, especially 1999’s “The Hello Kitty Murder.”

The details are gruesome. You can read about it here.

Know any other Hello Kitty facts we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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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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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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