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9 Odd and Unusual Soaps

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When you need to buy a gift for a person who doesn't want anything specific, items that can be used up are always welcome. Sweets, art supplies, wine, and soap will be used and won't clutter up the house for years to come. Here are some odd and unusual soaps for the odd and unusual people in your life.

1. Money Soap

This gift is like giving someone a lottery ticket. Or money. Or soap. A bar of Money Soap has real money inside, but you don't know what you'll get until you've used the soap. Embedded in the center is a bill that could be anything from a $1 bill to a $50 bill!

2. Sith Soap

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Clean up with the Dark Side! Sith Soap come in a set of four, featuring Darth Vader, Darth Maul, a clone, and a storm trooper. Made from soft and gentle goat's milk and olive oil. You can also order just the Darth Vader soap.

3. Absinthe Soap

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Archie McPhee offers Absinthe Soap as an alternative for those who can't afford to fill a bathtub with absinthe. Which is all of us. The green bar comes in a nice tin with vintage art.

4. Kentucky Bourbon Soap Shot

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Here's another liquor-based soap that comes in shot glass form! Kentucky Bourbon Soap Shots are described as "Oaken and smoky with a hint of sweet caramel." The shot glasses themselves (four in a set) are made of soap, so you won't have a souvenir after the bathing is done.

5. Tetris Soap

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Two Etsy vendors make soap in Tetris shapes. Digital Soaps features tinted transparent and opaque soaps (shown) and DirtyAssSoaps made an all-opaque version in more colors. Unfortunately, both are currently sold out. If demand is high enough, they might make more.

6. iPhone Soap

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Get someone you love an iPhone. An iPhone bar of soap, that is. The iPhone is watermelon-marguerita scented. The same company also has a Blackberry-shaped soap that smells like (of course) blackberries!

7. Fuzzy Soap

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The original Fuzzy Wuzzy Bath Soap from the 1960s made bath time fun because it would start "growing hair"! After it first got wet, the soap would crystallize and protrude from the surface, continuing to grow for several days. Then when you used up the soap, you'd find a little toy prize inside. Fuzzy Wuzzy soap came in a package with five animal shapes, and is still available occasionally on eBay. This little cat soap that works the same way can be bought from Wonder Workshops.

8. Landmine Soap

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Hideaki Matsui designed soap bars that resemble landmines. Not only an odd design, these soaps are also working for a cause.

For every soap purchased, $2 is donated to The Cambodia Landmine Museum. The facility contains a school, an orphanage with living facilities for up to 30 at-risk children, and functions as a place for action, serving as a launching pad for humanitarian and landmine relief outreach initiatives.

9. Razor Blade Soap

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Razor Blade Soap comes with the disclaimer "for decorative purposes only". You really don't want anyone to use this because each bar contains a real razor blade! The soap is clear, so the danger can be seen. This item would fit well into one of my previous posts on creepy home decor.

See more unusual soaps in the previous post 8 Attention-Grabbing Soaps.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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