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10 Wacky Grooming Products from the 1970s

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I’d like to say that we Baby Boomers were savvy shoppers in our youth—that we never fell for fancy packaging or seductive advertisements. I’d like to say that, but I’d be lying. Why else would we have slapped down our hard-earned baby-sitting money on products like these in the eternal quest to look and smell our best?

1. Lemon Up

Vermont Country Store

Each bottle of Lemon Up shampoo purportedly contained the juice of one whole lemon along with its other ingredients. Rinsing your hair with lemon juice after shampooing was one of those beauty tips advice columnists used to hand out—it helped to rinse all the detergent-y buildup out of your hair and make it shiny. Of course, mixing the lemon juice right in with the detergent sounds like it defeats the purpose… 

2. Body on Tap

Beer was another home remedy to make your tresses shiny (reflective hair was big in the 1970s), and Body on Tap shampoo contained a whole cup o’suds. 

3. Dry Look

Men were beginning to ditch their Brylcreem and discover the wonders of the blow dryer in the early 1970s. But how to hold those flyaway hairs in place in a manly fashion? The Dry Look, a hairspray designed especially for males, to the rescue!

4. Tickle deodorant

The, er, unusual shape of the Tickle bottle invited all sorts of rude comments about what was really making those women in the TV commercials giggle uncontrollably.

5. Love’s Baby Soft

Was Love’s Baby Soft fragrance line deliberately sexualizing children in their ads…? To add to the “ick” factor of the ad campaign, the stuff actually smelled like baby powder!

6. Short ‘n Sassy

Flickr: Twitchery

Short hair probably didn’t require a different formulation of shampoo in order to maintain its shape and bounce. In fact, anyone who took the time to read the “ingredients” panel would probably discover that Short & Sassy was made up of the same stuff as every other shampoo on the shelf. Really picky consumers could even argue that gold medal skater Dorothy Hamill sported her trademark wedge haircut long before this shampoo hit the shelves.

7. Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific

Jergens Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific from Robert Burton on Vimeo.

This floral-fragranced shampoo is one of the brands most often mentioned on Internet message boards frequented by women who grew up in the 1970s and early '80s. Perhaps Madison Avenue advertising types should take note—products whose names are rejoinders make an impression with consumers.

8. Earth Born Shampoo

Flickr: Twitchery

Between Lemon Up and Earth Born, it seems like women in the '70s wore more fruit in their hair than Carmen Miranda. I did, in fact, use the apricot version of this shampoo back when I was in the eighth grade, and while I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in my hair quality, I can report that when I got caught in the rain my hair reeked of a fruity aroma.

9. Blue Jeans Cologne

Cleopatra's Boudoir

This was one of those fragrances that apparently pinned its success on the package design. I mean, who wants to actually smell like a pair of denim pants?

10. Skinny Dip Cologne

To go “skinny dipping” means to swim in the raw, so this fragrance had a semi-naughty vibe from the get-go. Add to that advertisements featuring Plain Everygirl Sandy Duncan, who gets no attention from men until she daubs Skinny Dip behind her ears (suddenly she’s surrounded by suitors), and you’ve got a best-seller.

Were you a Breck girl? Did you use Psssst on your hair in between shampoos? Share your favorite grooming products of yesteryear with the rest of us!

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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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