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11 Household Items Made Into Prom Dresses

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Industrious ladies have always taken to designing and creating their own prom dresses, but generally that just means sewing a few pieces of fabric together. For the truly crafty and clever, though, the materials for a one-of-a-kind dress can be found around the house.

1. Duct Tape

The most common oddball material for prom dresses and tuxes has to be duct tape. And there’s good reason for the material’s popularity—every year Duck Brand Tapes offers $30,000 worth of scholarships to students who can make the best duct tape prom outfits. The winning couple gets a $5,000 prize per person -not bad for being sticky and sweaty for one night. The contest galleries are worth a look.

2. Newspapers

This year, the Detroit Free Press decided to try their hand at prom dress construction contests, offering a $500 prize to the best dress made out of old newspapers.

3. Skittles Wrappers

You’d think someone who made their entire dress from Skittles would be a serious fan of the candy, but as it turns out, Molly Burt-Westvig just really loves rainbows and thought the packaging would make the perfect fabric for her unconventional prom gown. It only took 101 wrappers to create this fringe-covered dress.

4. Starburst Wrappers

Without a contest to incentivize them, two different students wore dresses made out of Starburst Wrappers. The first was Tara Frey, whose mother spent six years constructing a dress, a purse, shoes and jewelry, and a matching vest for Tara’s date. By the time all was said and done, no one could even estimate how much candy they had to go through to make the dress. It must have been a ton though, considering that Diane McNease required about 18,000 wrappers just to make the corset of her prom dress this year—a feat that took the high school senior five months.

5. Coffee Filters

Sometimes prom dresses are most certainly inspired by things the girls love. For example, Aimee Kick is known around town as “the girl with a coffee cup" as the aspiring fashion designer spends a lot of time at her local coffee shops. Embracing her love of the caffeinated bean, Aimee went ahead and created an entire dress out of coffee filters and accessorized the look with a coffee bean necklace.

6. Gum Wrappers

Elizabeth Rasmuson and boyfriend Jordan Weaver’s friends must have had great breath this year. That’s because the couple bought enough gum to create a corset top and a vest out of the wrappers. But to get to the wrappers, they had to pass out "5" gum to all of their friends first.

7. Doritos Bags

When it comes to crafting prom dresses from unconventional materials, perhaps no one is as famous as Maura Pozek. While I have no idea how she’s managed to go to prom four years in a row, she has certainly come up with impressive looks for every event, starting with the homemade Gothic Lolita dress she wore freshman year. The next year though, she decided to make it more of a challenge, and created this delightful dress from Doritos bags.

8. Soda Tabs

For her junior year, Maura decided to make something a little classier and began investing over 100 hours into this dress made with over 4,000 pull tabs and lots of ribbon. Surprisingly, of all of her gowns, she claims that this was the most comfortable.

9. Cardboard

For her final prom dress, this year Maura really dove into the recycling bin, pulling out cardboard and paper bags. Impressively, she even managed to construct a lovely corset backing with her corrugated top.

10. Bubble Wrap

It’s hard to tell if Reddit user jnizeti was inspired by the duct tape prom dress contest or by a package delivered to her house. Either way, it’s certainly unique.

11. A Parachute

This may be the only dress on this list made out of actual fabric, and it isn't technically something most people would find around the house, but it's certainly not ordinary. The dress, made from a parachute by Crafter user Obudha, can actually be turned into a tent. It’s like the Swiss army knife version of prom dresses.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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