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The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

Those Magnificent Ladies in Their Flying Machines

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The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

In the early days of human flight, a new word entered our lexicon: "aviatrix," the female version of "aviator." These women were true pioneers, although if you asked them, they would probably tell you they were just adventurous and loved flying -same as the men who took to the air in those days. Or even today, for that matter. But for a woman to drive one of the newfangled flying machines in the early 20th century took a can-do attitude that wasn't normally encouraged in women.

Baroness Raymonde de Laroche

Elise Raymonde Deroche was the first woman to receive a pilot's license. She was not a baroness, but a French plumber's daughter who became a stage actress under the name Raymonde de Laroche. In 1908, she was smitten with the idea of flying when she saw an exhibition by the Wright Brothers. Immediately, de Laroche began taking flying lessons from airplane builder Charles Voisin. His plane could only hold one person, so her first actual flying lesson was a solo flight, on October 22, 1909. There is some evidence that she was not the first female to fly solo, but she is definitely the first to earn a license. The newsletter of the Royal Aero Club referred to her as a "Baroness" in its report of her feat. Raymonde de Laroche never objected to the title, which stuck to her for life.

Raymonde de Laroche flew in exhibitions and races, but was denied the opportunity to fly in World War I. After the war, she was determined to become a test pilot. She got the job in 1919. In her first test flight, in which she was co-pilot, the plane took a nose dive and both Raymonde de Laroche and the pilot were killed instantly.

Blanche Stuart Scott

Born in 1885, Blanche Scott was an adventurer before she became a pilot. Scott was the second woman ever to drive an automobile coast to coat, from California to New York, in 1910. At the end of her stunt, she took her first flying lesson from pilot Jerome Fanciulli.

To prevent her aircraft from gaining enough speed to become airborne while taxiing on her own, Curtiss inserted block of wood behind the throttle pedal. However, "something happened" on September 2, and Scott managed to fly to an altitude of forty feet in the air.

The Aeronautical Society of America denied Scott the title of "first U.S. female aviator" because her solo flight was not intentional. However, Scott went on to become an accomplished pilot. She joined an exhibition team and performed daredevil stunts, and also went on to work as a test pilot for Glenn Martin aircraft (which eventually became Lockheed-Martin). Scott retired from professional flying in 1916, and became a Hollywood script writer.

Bessica Raiche

Bessica Raiche stood out from the crowd. Born in 1875, she entered the 20th century driving an automobile, wearing bloomers, and eventually practicing medicine as both a dentist and an obstetrician. She and her husband, Frenchman Francois Raiche, were fascinated by aviation and decided to build their own airplane in their backyard in Mineola, New York. They designated Bessica to be the test pilot, because she weighed less than Francois. With no training or experience, she took off for the plane's first short flight on September 16, 1910. In fact, Raiche made five flights that day -and would have flown more, if the plane hadn't crashed. Since she is the first documented woman to fly solo deliberately, Raiche was certified by the Aeronautical Society of America as the first U.S. female aviator. She and Francois went on to build more airplanes, making improvements on each one.

Hélène Dutrieu

Hélène Dutrieu was born in 1877 in Belgium, and by age 20 she was a professional stunt cyclist and champion racer on both automobiles and motorcycles. But that wasn't enough- Dutrieu also learned to fly, and was the fourth woman in the world to earn a license, in 1910. She became one of the first female professional pilots, breaking records and performing in air shows. To put her accomplishment in perspective, she caused a bit of a scandal when it became known that she did not wear a corset while flying. But that still wasn't enough. During World War I, Dutrieu drove an ambulance and worked her way up to director of a military hospital. After the war, she went into journalism and worked to promote the role of women in aviation.

Ruth Law

Born in 1887, Ruth Bancroft Law received her pilot's license in 1912 and began a career as a stunt pilot. Law was very competitive, always trying to outrace, outfly, or do a more dangerous stunt than the next pilot. In 1916, she announced her intention to break the distance record by flying from Chicago to the New York state line, a distance of 590 miles. Few took her seriously. When she tried to buy a plane large enough to carry the necessary fuel, the manufacturer refused, saying a woman couldn't do it (and besides, they were busy building planes for the war). So Law had to make do with a smaller, older Curtis biplane. She outfitted it with an extra gas tank, but she still had to use both her hands for controls, which meant juggling navigation maps as best as she could.

On November 19, 1916, Law took off from Chicago in very cold weather, fighting high winds. There were a couple of close calls along the way, as she encountered fog and high mountains. Law ran out of gas before reaching New York state, and glided in powerless for the last few miles. But she made it, and set a new world non-stop distance record.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was born the tenth of thirteen children to sharecroppers in the tiny town of Atlanta, Texas. She had to move away from the family to attend high school, but could only afford one year of tuition. At 23, she went to Chicago and became a manicurist. But as she followed the progress of World War I, she dreamed of flying an airplane. No one would teach a black woman to fly, so she went to France in 1920 to take an aviation course at the Somme, sponsored by the Chicago weekly newspaper The Defender. She was the only woman in her class to receive a pilot's license, but even more, she was the first black American woman to gain a license, and the first person of African American descent to hold an international pilot's license.

Coleman's dream was to open her own school for aviators, but first she had to establish her own flying career. Back in the U.S., she still could not find anyone to train her in the skills she would need for barnstorming shows, the most lucrative of civilian aviation careers at the time. So she returned to Europe for more training in 1922. When she began headlining air shows with her daredevil maneuvers, she gained the respect of men and women, black and white. Coleman became know as "Queen Bess." In addition to flying, she gave lectures on aviation and performed educational exhibition flights. And she saved her money for her school. But it was not to be. On April 30, 1926, she was testing out a plane she had recently purchased, with mechanic William Wills piloting. Coleman was not wearing a seatbelt, as she wanted to check out the vantage point from which she was scheduled to parachute the next day. The engine jammed, the plane shook, and Coleman fell out, plummeting to her death. She was 34 years old.

Pancho Barnes

Photograph: The San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.

Florence Leontine Lowe was born in 1901 to a wealthy family who raised her in high society. She took riding and ballet lessons, but she was particularly drawn to the interests of her grandfather, legendary Civil War balloonist Thaddeus Lowe. He took Florence to her first aviation show in 1910, and told her one day she would have her own flying machine.

Florence's family arranged her marriage to minister C. Ranken Barnes in 1921. She had a son, but was never happy as a housewife, and felt that she had to compete for the minister's attention. She and the minister separated and were divorced a few years later. This freed Florence, nicknamed "Pancho" by her friends, for the adventures she craved. In 1928, Pancho took flying lessons and passed her solo test after only six hours of instruction. Very few women achieved pilot's licenses at the time, and Pancho's was signed by Orville Wright. She immediately took to barnstorming, performing in air shows and competing in air races. In 1930, she broke Amelia Earhart's world women's speed record by flying at over 196 miles per hour! Pancho then turned to Hollywood, where she became a stunt pilot in several movies. She also founded a union for stunt pilots, the Associated Motion Picture Pilots

In 1935, Barnes bought 180 acres of land in the Mojave Desert, near Muroc Field, now a part of Edwards Air Force Base. She opened The Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch with a hotel, restaurant, nightclub, and a working farm. Barnes arranged for the expanding air base to give her leftover food which she fed to her pigs, which she would then sell to the Air Force. The nightclub became a favorite hangout for pilots, including Chuck Yeager, Buzz Aldrin, and the test pilots who went on to become the Mercury astronauts. You might recall Pancho and her nightclub as it was portrayed in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. She was also the subject of a 2009 PBS documentary, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and The Happy Bottom Riding Club. Pancho Barnes died of breast cancer in 1975.

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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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Smart Shopping
This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

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Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch, Black, Large (US Version) for $229.94 (list price $249.95)

Brother Printer EHLL2360DW Compact Laser Printer, Duplex Printing & Wireless Networking, Refurbished for $69.99 (list price $89.99)

VicTsing Shower Speaker, Wireless Waterproof Speaker with 5W Driver, Suction Cup, Buit-in Mic, Hands-Free Speakerphone - Army Green for $18.99 (list price $24.99)

CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $6.95 (list price $12.99)

Anker Quick Charge 2.0 36W Dual USB Car Charger, PowerDrive+ 2 for Galaxy S7 / S6 / Edge / Plus, Note 5 / 4 and PowerIQ for iPhone 7 / 6s / Plus, iPad Pro / Air 2 / mini, LG, Nexus, HTC and More for $12.99 (list price $59.99)

Timex T235WY AM/FM Dual Alarm Clock Radio - White for $19.65 (list price $24.95)

Lexar JumpDrive P20 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive - LJDP20-64GCRBNA for $34.47 (list price $41.49)

Anker PowerLine+ Lightning Cable (6ft) Durable and Fast Charging Cable [Double Braided Nylon] for iPhone, iPad and More(White) for $13.99 (list price $39.99)

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AmazonBasics 6-Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip 2-Pack, 200 Joule - Black for $9.99 (list price $11.49)

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Sades Over-Ear Stereo Bass Gaming Headphone with Noise Isolation Microphone for Xbox One PC PS4 Laptop Phone for $23.99 (list price $39.99)

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Magic Bullet Blender, Small, Silver, 11 Piece Set for $34.00 (list price $39.99)

ThermoPro TP03A Digital Food Cooking Thermometer Instant Read Meat Thermometer for Kitchen BBQ Grill Smoker for $10.49 (list price $29.99)

Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale Multifunction Food Scale, 11 lb 5 kg, Silver, Stainless Steel (Batteries Included) for $13.98 (list price $39.99)

Ado Glo Kitchen Shears - Stainless Steel Multi-Function Kitchen Scissors with Sharp Blade - Professional Poultry Shears for $12.95 (list price $34.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, Gyutou Knife, Kitchen Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handle for $24.99 (list price $125.00)

12-Pack KEURIG Compatible Water Filters by K&J - Universal Fit (NOT CUISINART) Keurig Compatible Filters - Replacement Charcoal Water Filters for Keurig 2.0 (and older) Coffee Machines for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Hamilton Beach 22910 Brushed Stainless Steel 2-Slice Toaster for $9.24 (list price $24.99)

Spiralizer 5-Blade Vegetable Slicer, Strongest-and-Heaviest Duty, Best Veggie Pasta & Spaghetti Maker for Low Carb/Paleo/Gluten-Free Meals, With 3 Exclusive Recipe eBooks for $29.99 (list price $49.99)

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls by Finedine (Set of 6) Polished Mirror Finish Nesting Bowls, ¾ - 1.5 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 8 Quart - Cooking Supplies for $22.95 (list price $39.95)

Hiware 12-piece Good Stainless Steel Dinner Forks Cutlery Set, 8 Inches for $15.59 (list price $22.00)

HOME

Furhaven Orthopedic Mattress Pet Bed, Large, Cream, for Dogs and Cats for $25.49 (list price $30.44)

12 Air Plant Variety Pack - Bulk Assorted Species of Live Tillandsia House Plants for Sale - Wholesale Indoor Terrarium Air Plants by Aquatic Arts for $22.99 (list price $25.08)

Estilo 1 gallon Glass Mason Jar Double Beverage Drink Dispenser On Metal Stand With Leak Free Spigot, Clear for $27.98 (list price $31.88)

Poly and Bark Ralston Writing Desk - Standard Height - in Ash Grey for $49.99 (list price $55.99)

Outsunny 3 Person Canopy Porch Swing - Black for $132.67 (list price $99.99)

Sterilite 25306P01 3 Drawer Wide Weave Tower, Espresso Frame & Drawers w/ Driftwood Handles, 1-Pack for $19.83 (list price $22.44)

AmazonBasics Mid-Back Mesh Chair for $49.58 (list price $64.99)

Mpow LED Solar light, Bright Security Lighting Outdoor Motion Sensor Lighting for Garden, Patio for $14.99 (list price $19.99)

HOMFA Fashion Heavy Duty Garment Rack with Shelves 3-Tier Shoes Rack,Coat Rack Hooks,Clothes Rack with Hanger Bar (Black) for $49.99 (list price $110.99)

Premium 8 Piece Towel Set (Grey); 2 Bath Towels, 2 Hand Towels and 4 Washcloths - Cotton - Machine Washable, Hotel Quality, Super Soft and Highly Absorbent by Utopia Towels for $25.99 (list price $43.99)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

VicTsing 300ml Cool Mist Humidifier Ultrasonic Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser for Office Home Bedroom Living Room Study Yoga Spa - Wood Grain for $49.99 (list price $29.99)

Nerdwax Stop Slipping Glasses as Seen on Shark Tank for $12.99 (list price $14.99)

Redken Short Sculpt 19 Touchable Texturizing Gel, 3.4 Ounce for $12.46 (list price $20.00)

Oak Leaf 7X Magnification LED Lighted Makeup Mirror,Bright Shaving Bathroom Vanity Mirror with Strong Suction Cup,Touch-Activated,Rotates 360 Degrees,Daylight Color,Battery Operated for $19.99 (list price $59.99)

BraceUP Stabilizing Lumbar Lower Back Brace and Support Belt with Dual Adjustable Straps and Breathable Mesh Panels (S/M) for $23.99 (list price $45.98)

Brightdeal Replacement Brush Heads for Philips Sonicare Toothbrush E Series HX7022/66, Essence, Xtreme, Elite and Advance (6-pack) for $19.99 (list price $25.99)

Philips Sonicare Essence Sonic Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush, White for $24.95 (list price $49.99)

Swiffer Duster Refills, Unscented Dusters Refill, 20 count for $13.97 (list price $15.99)

Braun Series 9-9095cc Wet and Dry Foil Shaver for Men with Cleaning Center, Electric Men's Razor, Razors, Shavers, Cordless Shaving System for $299.99 (list price $499.99)

Johnson's 24 Hr Moisturizing Wash Soft Body Lotion 12 fl oz (6 pack) for $26.99 (list price $29.99)

Germ-X 1000042965 Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer Lotion 4 oz. (Pack of 12) for $38.53 (list price $55.28)

Radha Beauty Natural Therapeutic Frankincense Essential Oil, 4 oz. for $16.95 (list price $49.99)

FHI Brands Stylus Thermal Styling Brush, Black for $79.99 (list price $99.99)

Thayers Alcohol-free Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera, 12 oz for $10.51 (list price $19.95)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

AmazonBasics Wireless Presenter for $21.00 (list price $24.99)

Anycolor 3 Pack Compatible Brother M221 M-K221 MK221 M Tape Black on White Label Tape for Brother P Touch Label Maker PT-90 PT-M95 PT-70BM PT-70 PT-65 PT-85 PT-45 (3/8" x 26.2' 9m x 8m) for $32.49 (list price $32.49)

EXPO Low-Odor Dry Erase Markers, Fine Tip, Assorted Colors, 8-Count for $7.37 (list price $11.49)

HIRALIY CH019 Aluminum Portable Laptop Stand for 13" & Smaller Laptops/Notebooks/ /Tablets (Grey) for $29.99 (list price $49.99)

Thick Classic Notebook with Pen Loop - Lemome Wide Ruled Hardcover Journal with Pocket to Write in + Page Dividers Gifts, Banded, Large, 180 Pages, 8.4 x 5.7 in for $14.99 (list price $25.99)

Clipboards (Set of 10) by Office Solutions Direct! Low Profile Clip Standard A4 Letter Size clipboard for $12.88 (list price $29.95)

VANRA Metal Mesh Desktop File Sorter Organizer Desk Tray Organize with 3 Letter Trays and 2 Vertical Upright Sections, Black for $33.98 (list price $68.80)

Paper Mate Profile Retractable Ballpoint Pens, Bold (1.4mm), Assorted Colors, 12 Count for $6.69 (list price $17.09)

Five Star Spiral Notebook, 3 Subject, College Ruled, 150 Sheets, Black, Cobalt Blue, Red, 3 PACK (73393) for $12.87 (list price $29.99)

HP Paper, Office Ultra White, 20lb, 8.5 x 11, 3 Hole Punch , 92 Bright, 500 Sheets / 1 Ream (113102R), Made In The USA for $4.01 (list price $7.01)

Sharpie Accent Retractable Highlighters, Chisel Tip, Assorted Colors, 8-Count for $7.54 (list price $8.38)

U Brands Contempo Magnetic Monthly Calendar Dry Erase Board, 11 x 14 Inches, White Frame for $5.73 (list price $8.99)

EXPO Low-Odor Dry Erase Markers, Chisel Tip, Fashion Colors, 8-Count for $4.94 (list price $8.92)

Board Dudes 18" x 22" Magnetic Dry Erase/Cork Combo Board (CYH10) for $13.19 (list price $20.23)

Electric Pencil Sharpener - Battery Operated (No Cord) - Ideal For No. 2 and Colored Pencils (Drawing, Coloring) - Small and Durable - Kid Friendly - Artist , Students , and Professionals for $16.99 (list price $34.99)

Sargent Art 36-1012 36 Count Premium Pink Eraser Best Buy Pack for $4.99 (list price $20.29)

OUTDOORS, GARDEN, AND SPORTS

SHINE HAI Double Camping Hammock, Portable Lightweight Parachute Nylon Garden Hammock, Two Persons Bed for Backpacking, Camping, Travel, Beach, Yard for $23.99 (list price $139.99)

LUXUR Casual Foldable Nylon Backpack Hiking Sport Durable Lightweight Hand Bag 33L for Men and Women Rose Red for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle (24-Ounce) (Starburst) for $8.92 (list price $11.99)

KT TAPE PRO Kinesiology Sports Tape, 20 Precut 10in Strips, 100% Synthetic, Water Resistant, Breathable, Videos, Team USA Olympic Edition, Black for $9.99 (list price $14.99)

Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor & Fitness Tracker (Black, Medium/XX-Large) for $41.12 (list price $58.49)

TaylorMade 2016 Tour Preferred Golf Balls (1 Dozen) for $24.99 (list price $39.00)

JOOLA Conversion Table Tennis Top with Foam Backing and Net Set for $308.39 (list price $374.99)

Homitt 2 Way Y Hose Connector, Garden Hose Splitter with Comfortable Rubberized Grip for Easy Garden Life for $11.99 (list price $29.99)

BLACK+DECKER LST300 12-Inch Lithium Trimmer / Edger, 20-volt for $55.30 (list price $64.99)

Caravan Sports Infinity Zero Gravity Chair, Beige for $36.23 (list price $79.99)

TOOLS

Schlage FE595 CAM 619 ACC Camelot Keypad Entry with Flex-Lock and Accent Levers, Satin Nickel for $87.73 (list price $109.67)

Etekcity 3 Pack Portable Outdoor LED Lantern with 9 AA Batteries - Camping Friendly (Black, Collapsible) for $17.99 (list price $50.99)

First Alert AF400-2 Tundra Fire Extinguisher Aerosol Spray Twin Pack for $22.49 (list price $28.92)

Maxcraft 60626 8-oz. Stubby Claw Hammer for $10.89 (list price $12.48)

Coleman Cable 02309 16/3 Vinyl Outdoor Extension Cord, Orange, 100-Feet for $22.92 (list price $26.30)

BLENDX 7mm to 19mm Ratchet Universal Sockets Metric Wrench Power Drill Adapter Set - Professional Repair Tools for $9.99 (list price $15.99)

First Alert SCO5CN Battery Operated Combination Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Alarm for $31.24 (list price $33.93)

URPOWER Tactical Flashlight Super Bright CREE LED Flashlight Zoomable Tactical Flashlight Rainproof Lighting Lamp Torch -with Rechargeable 18650 2800mAh Battery -For Cycling Hiking Camping Emergency for $10.99 (list price $39.99)

Custom Leathercraft 1100 Multi-Purpose Clip-on Zippered Poly Bags for $6.72 (list price $7.82)

Campbell Hausfeld 17-Piece Air Tool and Accessory Kit (MP284701AV) for $11.78 (list price $17.07)

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