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Duct Tape Prom

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Every year, Duck brand duct tape sponsors a contest called Stuck at Prom, in which high school students design and create their own prom attire using duct tape. Who wants to wear duct tape to their prom? Anyone who wants to win scholarship money! The couple who wins first prize gets a $3,000 scholarship each, plus their school gets another $3,000. Second and third places pay well also.

The first competition was in 2001. Sarah Silva and Mitch Houseman of Arroyo Grande, California wore this lovely coordinated ensemble made of yellow and black duct tape. They said it took 40 $hours to make these outfits; I would have guessed it took much longer. The couple split $5,000 in scholarship money.

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Duct tape fashion, or even formal wear, is not limited to the prom. Even when no prize is on the line, people love to make things out of it. Walter Chang has made quite a few coats and accessories out of duct tape. He made this ensemble for himself and his date for the Class of 2002/2003 Winter Semi-Formal. He models other duct tape creations at his website.

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Joyce Lotta and Kevin Thomas were married in clothing made of duct tape in 2001. Fashion designer Brian McKinney used 48 rolls of duct tape for the bridal dress and the groom's jacket. Sculptor Todd Scott made accessories and flowers from duct tape. The wedding was sponsored by Duck brand duct tape. See more pictures in this gallery.
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The Duct Tape Guys have a blog devoted to America's favorite sticky tape. They posted the top ten reasons why you should wear duct tape to the prom, but the list grew to 18 reasons. I like this one:

Duct tape two cars together to make a limo.

I suppose that would look something like the above picture.
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Katy and her friends made these dresses for the 2000 Freshman Formal Dance and sent the pictures to the Duct Tape Guys. You'll find tips on making prom clothing here and here.
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The rules for the Stuck at Prom contest don't require you to dress yourself entirely in duct tape, but you can see what kind of clothing wins. If you just want to accessorize with duct tape, you can still enter. Start with something simple, like making a wallet out of duct tape. You'll find instructions at WikiHow.
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There are several ways to make your own duct tape shoes, from simple flip flops to these colorful slippers.
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It's prom after all, so you're going to need a corsage. Instructables will show you how to make a floral corsage that will last forever from duct tape. They'll also show you how to make a tie.
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For the Duck brand contest, you are supposed to make your own outfits and/or accessories. But if you aren't competing, you can buy ready-made accessories made of duct tape from Duct Tape Fashion, including these purses.
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Last year's Stuck on Prom winners were Sharon Dranko  and Joshua Humm who attended the prom at Center Area High School in Monaca, Pennsylvania. They initially came in second in internet voting, but were declared winners after it was determined that the first-place couple received a huge number of votes from invalid email addresses. Dranko's dress weighed 50 pounds and took over 140 hours to construct!
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The entry period for the 2009 Stuck on Prom competition begins on March 2nd. See the complete rules here. For inspiration, see the gallery of past entrants. Of course, if you decide to do this, please send us pictures!

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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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