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7 Jobs Your Inner Child Would Love

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Growing up often means prioritizing work over fun stuff. Unless, of course, your job involves nothing but fun stuff. Take a look at these seven occupations that require a bachelor’s in arrested development.

1. Mattress Jumper

Beds are not trampolines, but that never stopped kids from treating them like one. Today’s smaller mattress companies actually employ people to jump on their mattresses to compress the cotton material and make sure there are no imperfections or bumps in the layers. Reuben Reynoso, a professional jumper out of San Francisco, tests three a day and often reaches 100 bounces per mattress—side to side, corner to corner. Sure, a machine could do the same thing, but Reynoso’s small talk at parties would be a lot less interesting.

2. Professional RC Vehicle Racer

Radio-controlled (RC) vehicles are more than just an aisle filler at Toys ‘R Us: They’re the center of an entire subculture, where “drivers” travel the world racing their customized vehicles on tiny tracks for prize money. If that sounds too good to be true, it isn’t—just make sure you’re one of the top racers in the world to attract sponsorships, which make up the majority of a driver’s income, and don’t mind traveling up to 46 weeks out of the year.

3. Professional LEGO Builder

Architecture too intimidating? Try reducing the scale. Sean Kenney is one of many “certified” LEGO building professionals—artists who use the multicolored blocks to construct an array of projects. Major companies like Google and Mazda have commissioned Kenney’s work, which can range from a Homer Simpson bust to sports stadium replicas.

LEGO has at least nine pro builders registered. Just be prepared for some initial material investment: Kenney has over a million bricks to aid in assembly.

4. Amusement Park Ride Tester

The PC term might be “forensic ride engineer,” but in the end, these theme park scouts are paid to test-drive rides, point out any faults in the experience, and check for anything that might be a potential hazard. Companies like ATA Associates can even recreate accidents to make sure the ride doesn’t repeat any engineering mistakes.

If you’re not much of a full-time puker, at least be thankful for those who are: One company tested a new ride, London’s The Swarm, and watched as the gravity-defying track ripped the limbs right off their test dummies.

5. Ice Cream Taster

Enjoy ice cream? Partial to elastic waistbands? Food companies have a job for you: a professional taster samples up to a pint of the frozen stuff a day in addition to brainstorming ideas for new flavors and taste combinations. Tasters often have a food science or dairy science degree. And if you have a particularly fine palate, you might consider what Nestle tester John Harrison did: insure his taste buds for one million dollars.

6. Treehouse Designer

While most of us have probably fantasized about a wooded refuge from parents, few ever had the resources to construct one. Artist Roderick Romero designed a treehouse in 2003 for a community garden in Seattle; he has since created dozens of elaborate forts for the likes of Val Kilmer and Sting, with an emphasis on green and sustainable materials. No two are quite alike, and each is customized for the client’s preferences—many of whom want the designs for themselves, not their children.

7. Comic Book Inspector

For decades, comic collectors often had to rely on very subjective terms: one seller’s “near mint” may be a buyer’s “not worth the price.” That changed in 2000, when the Comics Guaranty Corporation (CGC) began offering third-party grading on a numerical scale: books flirting with a vaunted 10.0 score could fetch hundreds or thousands more than an uninspected copy.

Naturally, comics selling for five or six figures need to be carefully evaluated, which is where a CGC Grader comes in. All day long, they pore over classic comics and inspect them for damage. Upon completion, the book is “slabbed” in a tamper-proof plastic case to seal the condition. Top Graders with the CGC enjoy health benefits and a 401(k), as well as bragging rights: what could be better than getting paid to rifle through priceless comics all day?


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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.