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How to Look Like a Proper Victorian Lady in 11 Easy Steps

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Earlier this month, we showed 21st-century lads how to gentrify their wardrobes Victorian-style. Today, it’s the fairer sex’s turn. So ladies, if you’d like to shake things up with a bit of old-fashioned elegance, here are 11 handy tips.

1. Start “Stocking Up” on Hosiery.

In polite company, bare legs were passionately frowned-upon, so hosiery was non-negotiable.

2. When it Comes to Footwear, Black is Beautiful.

From the 1860s to the 1890s, dark shoes and boots (especially black ones) were the norm. Apart from coloration, however, ladies’ footwear was reasonably diverse. Boots had exceeded shoes in popularity until the late 1860s, when several models of the latter group (pointed-toed, round-toed, etc.) started cropping up.

3. Learn to Speak Glove.

GWTW Scrapbook

Evening gloves weren’t just classy. They also helped women (and men) send nonverbal messages. For example, if a clueless would-be suitor came over to make small talk, tapping your chin said “I love another.” Here’s a delightful crash-course on Victorian gesturing.

4. Get Yourself a Fan Collection.

“The fan’s novel feature,” writes historian Anna Gray Bennett, “was its ability to open and close ‘at a touch,’ thereby providing that essential element of fashion—surprise.” Any self-respecting lady owned several fans; ornate models were broken out at parties and conservative varieties taken to church on Sundays.

5. Dresses Evolved Quite a Bit, So Pick Your Favorite Decade.

Stretching from 1837 to 1901, the Victorian period was a rather lengthy one. Naturally, ladies’ dresses changed significantly during this era. Between the 1830s and 1860s, skirts were predominantly large and bell-like. However, as women began to enjoy more active lives later on, dresses began to exchange extravagance for mobility.

6. Loose Hair Is Kids’ Stuff.

Updos reigned supreme. Additionally, with the rise of hot irons, wavy hair was en vogue, and curls and braids also enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. Straight, flowing hair, on the other hand, was seen as immature and reserved exclusively for children.

7. Nix the Tanning Bed.

Oh, how standards can change! Tan skin might be all the rage now, but in Victorian times, paler complexions signified nobility.

8. Use Cosmetics Sparingly.

Only actresses and prostitutes wore excessive makeup, though not all of them cared for the stuff. “If Satan has ever had any direct agency in inducing woman to spoil or deform her own beauty,” wrote one prominent courtesan, “it must have been in tempting her to use [facial] paints and enameling.” Well-to-do women, meanwhile, lightly powdered their faces for whitening purposes. Rosy cheeks were prized, so pink blushers saw widespread application as well, along with lipstick and eye shadow (in moderation, of course).

9. Going Out? Cover That Head.

Regardless of gender, you didn’t want to be caught outdoors without some form of headgear! Trimmed with such ornaments as ostrich feathers and flowers, outside hats could get quite lavish. Bonnets and indoor hats were popular early on, but became associated with the elderly after the 1870s.

10. Borrow Some of Her Highness’ Jewelry Pointers.

It’s good to be the queen. The public strained to copy Victoria’s every whim in the jewelry department. She almost single-handedly popularized charm bracelets, charm necklaces, and a slew of other adornments throughout the U.K. After Prince Albert passed away in 1861, she mourned his death until the end of her days. During this time, Victoria predominantly wore darker jewels, and her subjects followed suit.

11. Corsets Are Unavoidable, But PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

Corsets can—and did—seriously restrict breathing or even cause rib disfigurement if bound too tightly. “Hourglass figures” were very much in vogue at the time. In keeping with the trend, expectant mothers even began donning special “pregnancy corsets.” More outrageous still was the “wasp waist” look, which involved grown women squeezing their midsections down to a scant 14 inches! But, contrary to popular belief, most Victorian corset-wearers thankfully didn’t take the practice to such frightening extremes.

So, are they safe for modern usage? Well, corsets are seeing a present-day revival of sorts at weddings and formal gatherings. Dr. Sara Gottfried claims that, although there’s (usually) no danger in putting one on periodically, “wearing a corset 24/7… can do a couple [nasty] things to your body. You may want to consult your physician to make sure that your lungs and liver are healthy,” she said, adding, “and ideally, don’t wear a corset until after the age of 21”.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated.

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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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Health
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.

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