CLOSE
Original image

Hillbilly Recycling

Original image

Over the past couple of decades, recycling has become the right thing to do. It is both fashionable and responsible to reduce our consumption and waste. In areas where there is less cash for consumer goods, recycling has always been a way of life. Raised in southeast Kentucky by parents born during the Great Depression, I know a thing or two about recycling. I've never gone as far as to keep an overstuffed sofa on the front porch or swim in a truck bed, but I never buy something new if I can use something I already have.

Years ago, a local group offered me a yard sign for a referendum vote that I would never support, but hey, free sign! Good quality, too, made of plastic and metal. So I painted over the political message and used electrical tape for my own message. It's visible and effective if not artistic. I've used it over and over.

431_playhouse.jpg

After a recent room remodel, I saved the good long planks and pieces of old paneling from the scrap heap before the workers hauled it off. Along with leftover siding and various other things I'd stashed over the years, I had enough material to build my kids a playhouse. The story of how I did it is in this post.

The containers that paint or roof tar comes in become buckets. A bucket without a handle becomes a bin. A leaky bucket becomes an irrigation aid or a sieve. A leaky bucket without a handle becomes a flower pot. A worn-out broom becomes a porch broom -not good enough for the floors anymore, but fine for the porch, sidewalk, or for reaching cobwebs and insect nests. When it's no longer good enough for even that, it becomes a garden stake.

427coffeetable.jpg

Not too long ago, the legs on my coffee table gave out. A relative had an extra coffee table in storage, but the laminated top was in bad shape. So I removed the top, took the legs off my table, and glued the two together. The process was documented in this post. I never buy new furniture. Vintage or antique furniture is much sturdier at the same price, and leaves less of an environmental footprint.

MFcannisters.jpg

Large coffee cans became a set of custom canisters that match the kitchen color. A canning jar is great for canning, but when the food is gone, it's a container for leftovers or a drinking glass. Large jars are good for storing beans, rice, popcorn, or anything else that's clumsy in its original bag. Jars keep insects out, too. There's the joke about the matching set of bowls that say "Cool Whip" on them... believe me, I don't do that, since I have heirloom china (which is also recycling, ya know), but I do keep plastic food containers instead of buying Tupperware. Pint size cottage cheese cups are great for food storage in the refrigerator or freezer. I use others as scoops for cat litter, cat food, and liquid fertilizer (great for measuring the amount). In the spring, I cut the old ones apart. The top part becomes a collar for tomato plants to discourage bugs and act as a funnel for water. The bottom part becomes a seed tray.

431_trellis.JPG

Most years, I set out 60-80 tomato plants and almost as many pepper plants. Tomato vines need trellises. I make mine from just about anything long and strong -tree limbs, tool handles, leftover trim, pipes, or slats. The horizontal bars are three pieces of 15-foot rebar and some L-shaped bracing leftover from some house construction. Shorter sticks are used for pepper stakes. I don't have time to hoe weeds all summer, so I use plastic sheeting that was leftover from my in-laws basement lining project for garden mulch. It's much stronger than the plastic mulch sold for garden use, enabling me to use the same sheets year after year. It doesn't last forever. I have to go back to the old newspaper mulch method for part of the garden now. The early garden isn't great to look at (flowerscan be a distraction), but it will grow on you. Literally.

MFgarden2.jpg

I don't buy newspapers, but I put them to good use after someone else does. First, I read them. Some are kept for the fireplace, since wadded newsprint is good for tinder and rolled up whole editions can be used for kindling. Newspapers are also used for garden mulch. You lay down entire sections at a time and cover them with pine needles (because it looks better and it keeps them from blowing away). I don't use the colored sections for the garden because of the toxic dyes, but those are good for the bottoms of our birdcages. At the end of the garden season, I rake up what's left and throw it in the compost pile. It's pretty well shredded by then.

431compost.jpg

The compost pile is the ultimate in recycling. Almost anything organic goes into it. In this picture, you see one bin is overflowing with grass clippings because it's May. I was emptying out finished compost from the other bin to use in the garden. Grass clippings are the biggest component in the compost, but I also add autumn leaves, trimmings, peelings and food scraps (lots of coffee grounds), rotted wood, and fireplace ashes. Since I have room for two big bins and only remove compost once a year, I don't turn it often. The addition of compost has changed my garden from almost pure clay to fine topsoil over a few years. You may have noticed the compost bin itself was made from scrap lumber. It's in an area of my property not easily seen.

These examples barely scratch the surface of my recycling habits. Call it redneck engineering or southern ingenuity (there are worse terms), but habits like these save money, or allow me to do things I otherwise couldn't afford. And it reduces waste, which is the right and fashionable thing to do.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES