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8 Quick Facts About the $100 Bill

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1. The $100 is the highest value bill in circulation in the United States. The US stopped producing denominations larger than $100—$500, $1000, etc.—during WWII and halted distribution in 1969. While these larger notes are legal tender and may be accepted, the Federal Reserve Banks destroy any that are received.


2. Myanmar black market moneychangers will give you a better rate on hundreds than on $50s or $20s—and they better be clean and free of creases or they might just turn you away. Apparently Burmese moneychangers are a little OCD.   "¨"¨

3. Rumors of a new $100 have been circulating for several years now with not much to show from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It is supposed to combine micro-printing with tiny lenses—650,000 lenses for a single $100 bill—that will move the printed images as you move the bill. To me, this sounds like the optical illusion cards that come with Cracker Jacks.

100-euro4. The U.S. dollar has served for decades as the predominant coin of the realm for international black market transactions. Approximately three-quarters of all $100 bills circulate outside the United States. Strangely enough, the supremacy of the dollar in this shadow economy has given the U.S. economy a boost. Since most of these bills will never return stateside, this outflow of U.S. currency now serves, in essence, as a gigantic interest-free loan. A few economists have predicted that the relatively new 100 and 500 Euro notes will soon supplant the $100 bill as the worldwide shady currency of choice due to the Euro's higher value and now near-worldwide acceptance."¨"¨

5. Traces of cocaine are found on nearly four out of five bills circulated in the U.S., yet the $100, $5 and $1 have much lower traces than the $10 and $20. The truth is that probably only a fraction of these bills have actually been used to snort cocaine. Most contact with the fine powder probably comes from incidental contact in wallets, cash drawers, and money sorting machines. Random stat: Nearly 100% of Irish notes are said to contain cocaine traces."¨"¨

6. The $100 bill represents 11.9 percent of all U.S. paper currency production, with the average bill expected to last 89 months in circulation."¨"¨

100-dollar-back7. The clock on the back of a $100 bill shows the time as 4:10. According to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, "There are no records explaining why that particular time was chosen."


8. There have been calls to demonetize the $100. (I had no idea that demonetize was a word.) Given its predominance in underworld transactions, and the lack of ordinary businesses that still accept $100 bills, some economists and pundits have called for the elimination of the hundred. We're not just talking about removal from circulation, mind you, but a total demonetization (spellcheck thinks it's a real word, too). Basically, give people a year or two to turn in all their hundreds, and after a certain point, they would no longer be valid U.S. currency. This would cripple money laundering enterprises, shut down major black market enterprises, and hurt our enemies, the proponents say. I say that if we can't get rid of the penny, what hope do we have of writing off old Ben?

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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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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