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Lip Balm Addiction: Are You in Recovery?

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I've never been a lip balm user. This is because I tend to avoid things that my friends find addictive -- and I've had friends who have been, dare I say, addicted to lip balm since elementary school. After a few hours without it, they're clearly jonesing, twitching, and needing a fix. I won't name any brands here -- they seem to be pretty much the same, as far as I (a non-user) can tell. To me, lip balm just feels weird -- but apparently this weirdness turns into a necessary feeling after regular use.

Apparently other people have noticed this addictive* quality too -- there's a Lip Balm Anonymous website dedicated to documenting what might cause the pseudo-addiction of lip balms. Check out their Is Balm Addictive? page for some well-cited discussion of what addiction is, and whether it might apply to lip balms.

I also came across a well-written blog post about quitting lip balms as well as moisturizing lotions, entitled An Addiction. Here's a snippet:

The chapstick story starts a long while ago. Ever since middle school or so I can remember using chapstick every day. I would always carry a tube around with me and frequently reapplied it. This continued on through high school and college until the point where forgetting my chapstick was a horrible occasion. If I realized I wouldn't have chapstick for more than an hour or two I would have to borrow or buy a new one. (Thankfully I was usually with Joey who was a user too).

Finally, while working at Google, I was fed up. I decided that it was time to get rid of my addiction and of course starting searching the internet for advice. I ran into a bunch of articles about whether or not lip balm is actually addictive (it definitely is) but finally made it to one that described the process of withdrawal... Without that article I am sure I would have given up because it was hard. Because chapstick prevents your lips from exfoliating properly when you stop using it you have a lot of dead skin to get rid of. This results in a really gross set of lips for a while that are constantly shedding. Thankfully, vaseline was there to help. Vaseline is sorta like a midway drug. It is worse than not using anything, but a lot better than chapstick. Vaseline was able to slow down the exfoliation to the point where I didn't feel disgusted about going to work, and after a couple of months I was able to stop using it too and I am now lip product free.

I'm not sure that lip balms prevent exfoliation (see the links above at Lip Balm Anonymous for more discussion of this) but they certainly seem to have effects that make your lips feel super-weird when you stop using them. It seems that avoiding this feeling is more what drives users not to quit; though there's also the element of something tingly (mint, etc.) in some brands that gives a pleasant effect when it's applied. All I know is I don't want to get hooked on this stuff.

* = Lip Balm Anonymous has a very nice disclaimer at the bottom of their pages, saying: "While our pain and addiction do not obviously compare to the horrors our brothers and sisters suffering from alcohol or narcotics addiction are feeling, Lip Balm Anonymous supports those members of other 12-step programs and no harm or slight is intended by this page." I thoroughly agree.

Are You in Recovery?

Are you a lip balm user, or a recovering user? Share your story in the comments. I'm genuinely curious how widespread this possible balm addiction thing is.

(Photo by Westside Shooter, used under Creative Commons license.)

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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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Opening Ceremony
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]