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10 Bizarre Uses for Your Discarded Hair

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Ed. Note: Todays' guest blog star (and our good friend) Dr. Michael Reed knows hair care. The Manhattan-based dermatologist and hair loss expert has devoted his life to helping folks keep the locks on their heads. He's even got a new book out on the topic: Women's Hair Loss: The Hidden Epidemic. Today, Dr. Mike's taking us through the ten craziest uses for discarded locks.

1. Make History! (or at least a weird representation of it)

Earlier this year Beijing hairdresser Huang Xin celebrated the 60th anniversary of Communist China's founding with a replica of the buildings and monuments around Tiananmen Square "“ all made entirely of human hair.

2. Stop an Oil Spill!

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Hairdresser (and hair enthusiast) Phil McCrory was watching CNN coverage on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill when he noticed the fur on the Alaskan otters soaked with oil. He began testing how much oil he could collect with the hair clippings from his salon and invented the Hair Mat which helped contain an oil spill off the coast of San Francisco in 2007.

3. Clothe the World (or at least a model)

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Croatian designers at Artidjana Company used 165 feet of blond hair to make a dress worn by model Simona Gotovac. The outfit was featured at a fashion show in Zagreb. But Artidjiana isn't the only one. Julia Reindell one upped the designers by creating an entire fashion line made from human hair for an awards show at the Royal Academy of Art in Piccadilly.

4. Build a Sturdy Chair

3260_1_468Former hairstylist-to-the-stars Ronald Thompson was cleaning hair clippings on the set of Batman Begins when he realized how sturdy a piece of hair was as opposed to fiberglass. He decided to create an eco-friendly alternative to traditional fiberglass molds and designed the stiletto chair made entirely of human hair.

5. Use It on the Vegetable Garden

Calling all gardeners! Need a mulching source that is renewable? Human hair makes an excellent garden mulch. In fact, Phil McCrory (of oil spill clean-up fame—what can I say, the guy loves old hair) also patented a hair mat to be used as garden mulch.

6. Hang it from Your Walls

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In 2006 Dartmouth College commissioned Chinese artist Wenda Gu to display monument-sized banners woven entirely out of student's hair. To line their walls, the school held a hair-drive and sent 300 pounds worth of New Hampshire hair to China.

7. Donate It To Your Fan Club

Screen shot 2009-10-14 at 10.19.48 PMElvis Presley shaved his manly mane when he went into the service in 1958. More than five decades later those shorn locks showed up for auction to the highest bidder at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. The hair was apparently a gift from Presley himself to the President of his fan club, Gary Pepper.

8. Turn It Into Jewelry

During Victorian times preserving a lock of a loved one's hair as jewelry was all the rage. A lock of hair was immortalized in a pendant and worn as a necklace or a brooch. Although this practice went out of popular fashion at the turn of the Century, some artists continue to devote their lives to hair jewelry today.

9. Donate It to a Museum...

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If you're driving through Independence Missouri any time soon you may want to stop by Leila's Hair Museum. The walls at Leila's are adorned with artwork featuring human hair with over 400 antique hair wreaths, hatpins, necklaces, bracelets, broaches and rings all made with human hair. Additionally, Leila claims to have hair from Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, George Washington, Aaron Burr, JFK and John Lennon.

10. Or Simply Steal It for your Personal Collection

In 2007 an Australian baggage courier was jailed by a Melbourne judge for stealing women's hair from their suitcases. Rodney Lyle Petersen pleaded guilty to 50 counts of theft of women's hair that he collected from the baggage of Qantas passengers. Petersen would apparently pull over in his courier van and rummage through the lost or delayed luggage that he was returning to Qantas passengers. He collected hair from brushes in the suitcases and put them in plastic baggies.

Be sure to check out Dr. Reed's new book: Women's Hair Loss: The Hidden Epidemic published by luxury hair care supplier Lock & Mane. Click here to order, or follow the banner link below.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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