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Can I Sell That on eBay?

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They say you can buy or sell anything on eBay, but if you wade through the site's terms and conditions, the definition of "anything" becomes a bit narrower. Some forbidden items seem pretty obvious: many states in the U.S. regulate the sale of firearms, booze and tobacco to some degree or another, and bootlegged movies and knockoff handbags are as frowned upon on the site as they are on the street. But what about escargot? Stalactites? A massage?  We spent some time digging through eBay's rules. Here are some of the more obscure items that can only be auctioned under certain conditions, or can't be found at all.

Catalogs listing items that you're offering for sale are a no-no. Catalogs that are collectible memorabilia and don't offer current merchandise for sale, like old Montgomery Ward catalogs, are fine.

Intangible items are a no go, so if you want to sell your soul for a quick buck (or the ability to play the blues), you'll need to go down to the crossroads at midnight.

Humans and human body parts can't be listed, with two exceptions: 1) items that contain human scalp hair (like wigs) and 2) clean, articulated, non-Native American skulls and skeletons intended for medical education. Any other bones, plus organs and blood, are forbidden.

"¢ With animals and products derived from them, things get a little complicated because of U.S. and foreign government regulations.

  • If you have any necessary permits and can guarantee safe over shipping, you can list"¦Crickets, worms and some other insects, as long as they're to be used for bait or food for pets; hatching eggs from animals that aren't endangered species, migratory birds, snakes, or turtles if they're being shipped within the U.S.; shellfish to be eaten; snails or slugs that are known as domestic aquatic snails or one of eBay's five allowed edible types.
  • Endangered species, migratory birds, noxious insects, pets and sharks are forbidden.
  • Pelts, furs and any body parts from an endangered species or from cats and dogs are not allowed. Non-endangered animal pelts and skins are OK if you state the species in your listing and follow applicable state laws.
  • Stuffed or mounted waterfowl or gamebirds can be listed only if the birds were bred in captivity.
  • Any and all products made from bears or mountains lions are not allowed.

"¢ Certain fossils and historical artifacts and relics can be listed, but with a few restrictions. They can't come from federal or state public land or Native American land and have to match the time-period category they're listed in. If the item is reworked, modernized or is a reproduction, this has to be fully described in the listing.

"¢ Legislation on the sale of event tickets varies from state to state and eBay users have to abide by their home state's laws. In Missouri, for example, you can't resell tickets to sporting events for more than face value. On concert tickets, though, you can make a nice little profit.

Cave formations can't be taken from caves on federal land, and other listings must adhere to The Federal Cave Protection Act.

Items in the style of Native American art or crafts, but not made by Native Americans, must be categorized as such and cannot be described in a way that may suggest the item was made by a Native American.

Grave-related and funerary items like burial plots, caskets and gravestones can be listed as long as they haven't been used.

"¢ You can list cell phone service contracts by themselves or bundled with a phone as long as you're an authorized reseller of cell phone services, offer a full refund within 10 days of payment to a buyer who is rejected for a service contract, state in your listing what parts of the country are serviced by the plan, and follow a few other guidelines.

"¢ Most used clothing, except undergarments, is OK, as long as the listing states that the item is used.

Inactive or expired credit or debit cards can be listed as long as 1) the expiration date on the face of the card is at least 10 years old, 2) the listing blocks or blurs the name and part of the number on the card in a picture and includes the expiration date in the description, and 3) the issuing card company allows the sale of expired cards.

Government documents like antique (100+ years old) birth certificates/marriage licenses and expired U.S. passports issued 20+ years prior to the date of the sale can be listed. Current vehicle license plates, driver's licenses, passports, fake IDs, government-issued medals and VIN plates cannot.

Expired coupons can't be listed because they could be used to commit fraud.

"Murderabilia" related to serial killers over 100 years old (like Jack the ripper) and outlaws of the Old West are allowed. The personal belongings or letters or artwork created by convicted violent felons, items related to the Zodiac Killer or Black Dahlia murder case, and items from notorious crime scenes are not permitted.

"¢ Fitness training, dance and music lessons, video editing and many other services can be listed in eBay's Specialty Services categories, but not if the listing in any way offers or suggests sexual contact.

"¢ You cannot list offers for personal relationships, online or off, or Facebook friendship.

This list is by no means exhaustive. If you've ever tried to buy or sell something and got shot down, or know of some more interesting items that are prohibited or restricted, speak up!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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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]