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10 Strange and Wonderful Soaps

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Solid soap is, of course, a useful consumer product. It is also possibly the perfect multi-dimensional art medium. The shape, colors, design, and scent can all be manipulated to produce just about anything the mind can imagine. Then you can mass-produce them in sizes that many people can afford to buy and use. Here are some wonderfully creative soaps that will impress your friends and family -or else have them scratching their heads in confusion!

1. Petri Dish Soap

Cleaner Science sells soap in petri dishes that resemble biological experiments. Pictured is e. coli, which smells like honey when you wash with it. Many cultures are available, or you can get a package of four small petri dishes in a sampler. Don't miss the fluorescent cyanobacteria!

2. Movie Poster Soap

Show off your love of cinema with a bar of soap embedded with a movie poster! Movie soaps have a scent that evokes the movie theater experience, that is, a combination of popcorn, soda, and chocolate. There are other posters and movie stills available, or you can request a particular movie to be depicted in soap.

3. Cat Food Scented Soap

I don't honestly know why you'd want to use cat food scented soap. Most likely you'd get Crazy Cat Lady Cat Food Scented Soap as a gag gift for an understanding friend. I know my cat-crazy daughter wants a bar just to have it around.

4. Toast with Jam

Etsy seller Soapapotamus crafts soap to resemble all kinds of food products. The toast and jam soap contains real strawberry seeds in the jam and both the bread and jam are appropriately scented -but they are made of real goat's milk soap.

5. Pickle Soap

Named for its scent rather than its shape, this soap really smells like a dill pickle! You might find yourself craving a hamburger after your bath.

6. Han Solo in Carbonite Soap

From the film The Empire Strikes Back, this soap depicts our hero Han after he was embedded in a "bar" of carbonite. The perfect gift for Star Wars fans, each bar is hand-crafted with skin-safe metallic pigment for an authentic look.

7. Pet Fish Soap

Your new pet fish is not swimming in a bag of water; but you'll have to excuse anything who thinks so at first glance. The fish in a bag soap is solid, with a soap fish surrounded by clear glycerin soap. No fishy smell, either, just a nice tangerine-grapefruit scent.

8. Beer Soap

The Beer Soap Company makes 90 different varieties of soap using beer instead of water. The type of beer used varies, as well as the added fragrance -not all of them smell like beer. The Mexican Hops soap shown is made with Dos Equis beer and scented with vanilla and cedarwood oil.

9. Abby Normal

A reference to the movie Young Frankenstein, this soap has a lovely raspberry scent, but is shaped like two brains in a jar. Remember, the brain you choose is the most important component of the monster you create.

10. Eyeball Soap

Halloween is coming up. Eyeballs in your soap dish will discourage those pesky trick-or-treaters from asking to use your bathroom ever again! Or you might want to use these all year round. The same vendor, BunnyBubbles, will help you to prepare for Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th) or Thanksgiving.

See more unusual soaps in the previous posts 8 Attention-grabbing Soaps and 9 Odd and Unusual Soaps.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]