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8 Useful Tattoos for Practical Ink Enthusiasts

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Tattoos have their fair share of downsides: the pain, the cost, and the disapproving glares from elderly family members. But if you select the right design, there can also be sweet functional benefits to getting inked. Here are some ingenious uses for tattoos that may even cause staunch opponents to soften their stance.

1. Give Baldness the Boot

Image credit: Good Look Ink

Move over, Rogaine - there’s been a revolutionary breakthrough in the science of baldness prevention. It’s a cutting edge procedure known as “cosmetic transdermal hair replication,” which is really just an official-sounding word for tattooed-on toupees. At a few specialty salons scattered across the globe, balding clients can get inked with tiny, irregular marks designed to look like natural hair follicles. The point is to make these men seem like they’ve got a full head of hair, but have simply opted to buzz it off.

2. Watch Cartoons 24/7

A Parisian tattoo artist named Karl Marc broke ground (and skin) last summer when he tattooed a scannable QR code onto his friend’s chest.

When scanned by a simple cell phone, the red flower tattoo came to life, revealing a mustached, animated character performing opera. And the coolest part? New animations can be added over time. Considering the growing number of cell phones capable of reading QR codes, it won’t be long before all of us are running around with a smorgasbord of Saturday morning cartoons inked on our chests.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3qv2dSXQXk

3. Save on Make-Up (and Remover!)

A modern cosmetic procedure known as permanent makeup – popularized in the 1990s – can shave seconds off your morning routine! By tattooing on eyeliner, eye shadow, lipstick, and even perfectly tweezed eyebrows, you’ll never have to worry about being caught without your face on again. The procedure is pricey – between $400 and $800 - but it’s well worth the time you’ll save browsing drugstore aisles for the perfect lip color.

4. Relieve Pain (with More Pain)

Who knew that being repeatedly poked with a rudimentary needle would squelch pain? But in the good old days, tattoos were commonly used for therapeutic purposes, much like acupuncture. Perhaps the most famous recipient of this unique treatment was Otzi the Iceman, a mummy discovered on the Italian-Austrian border estimated to have lived around 3300 B.C. Otzi’s body reportedly contained 57 carbon soot tattoos, arranged along his spine, knees, and ankles. Forensic analysis revealed joint degeneration in these areas, suggesting that the tattoos were probably an attempt at pain management. Too bad Otzi was unavailable to confirm.

5. Free Tacos for Life


In 1999, Casa Sanchez launched a corny but super successful marketing campaign. The San Francisco taquería promised free tacos for life to anyone who got a tattoo of the restaurant’s logo: a sombrero-clad boy riding an ear of corn. A number of regular customers took advantage of the offer. The tattoo itself cost about $100 – meaning that it paid for itself after about 15 meals.

6. Crack Down on Crime

For centuries, tattoos were the ultimate form of punishment in Japan. They had two major downsides: the pain, and the shame they conferred. Criminals were branded on the arm or the forehead with tats denoting their crimes and oftentimes the location where they took place. In one region, a pictograph for “dog” was inked onto the foreheads of serious criminals. This worked as a crime-prevention strategy for about 1000 years (hey – that’s a pretty good run!). But around the 17th century, criminals began covering up penal tattoos with ornamental ones. Pretty soon, tattoos became associated with gang membership and were outlawed by the Japanese government. Tattoos went full circle - from punishment for a serious offense to seriously punishable offense.

7. Craft a Portable Resume

During World War II, sailors didn’t bother to carry around CVs. They simply used tattoos to record their accomplishments directly on their bodies. A sailor earned a swallow for every 5,000 miles he sailed and a King Neptune for crossing the equator. An anchor meant that he had served in the Merchant Marines or that he’d crossed the Atlantic. A full rigged ship indicated that he’d sailed around Cape Horn.

8. Memorialize Fido

In the procedure known as known as “commemorative” or “ritual” tattooing, cremated ashes called cremains are incorporated into memorial tattoos. In the unique procedure, small amounts of ashes are sterilized in an autoclave and mixed with ink before being injected into the body. While the practice started with human ashes, it wasn’t long before clients started asking to use pet remains instead. At many parlors today, the majority of “commemorative” tattoo requests are actually tributes to pets.

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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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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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