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Lifetime Hourglass Urns

10 Things Your Ashes Can Do After You Die

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Lifetime Hourglass Urns

Ashes to ashes, dust to ... diamonds? Here are 10 ways to give cremains a life after death.

1. An hourglass

Time for some symbolism! Hourglass iconography on gravestones dates back to the Puritans. Now Lifetime Hourglass Urns can accommodate the ashes of one or two loved ones.

2. A Vinyl Record

Your cremated loved ones can't turn over in their graves, but they can spin right round on a record player. The British service And Vinyly presses ashes into vinyl so the dearly departed can rest in peace at 33 rpm. Families can provide the audio or have the service compose an original song, known as "bespook music."

3. A Diamond Ring

Human life is finite, but diamonds are forever. The memorial jewelry company LifeGem uses carbon from cremains to create diamonds of assorted cuts, colors, clarity, and carats. The gems can be used to make various pieces of jewelry, but we're thinking an engagement ring might be a little creepy.

4. A Teddy Bear

To paraphrase Yogi, this is more morbid than the average bear. The company stores cremains inside the plush and cuddly body of a stuffed animal.

5. Tattoos

Commemorative tattoos don't just honor deceased loved ones. Some are made with them! Tattoo artists can sterilize cremains and then mix them with tattoo ink, so the dearly departed is always under your skin.

6. Something to Write With

Ink isn't for everyone. The Carbon Copies project by designer Nadine Jarvis turns cremains into a set of 240 pencils. Each is stamped with the departed's name and birth and death years. Pencils are accessed one at a time and sharpened into a wooden box. After each pencil is used, the box of shavings can be kept as an urn.

7. A Portrait

Now a painting of your late grandmother can really be of your grandmother. A number of artists mix cremains and paint to create a special memorial portrait, landscape, or still life.

8. Stained glass

Let there be light. Stained glass pieces bonded with cremains are beautiful alt-urnatives, err, urn alternatives.

9. Human DNA trees

Here's a new twist on the tree of life. An art venture called Biopresence claims to transcode human DNA into trees to create a leafy, living memorial that isn't technically genetically modified. Consult their helpful chart above if you have any questions. We're guessing it's not like Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas.

10. Fireworks

Go out with a bang! Companies like Heavenly Stars Fireworks transform ash scattering into a pyrotechnic extravaganza. Writer Hunter S. Thompson was memorialized this way in 2005. If ammo better suits the departed, a company called Holy Smoke turns cremains into shotgun shells.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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