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Survival Kits: The Useful, the Cool, and the Ridiculous

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Everyone has some kind of survival kit, even if it is just your purse where you keep bandages and safety pins in a side pocket for emergencies. What kind of survival kit is most useful depends on what kind of emergency you think is most likely. I have a desk drawer full of jelly beans and pretzels because I believe a snack attack is more likely than a zombie apocalypse. I also have a basement shelf full of canned goods because running out of funds at the end of the month is more likely than a flood. So your personal choices for an emergency survival kit depends on whether you are camping in the woods, live in a tornado zone, or expect mass rioting. Here are some examples of emergency survival kits, some more practical than others.

A Survival Kit in an Altoids Tin

The smaller the kit, the more likely you are to have it on you, near you, or in your car when you need it. That’s why you find tiny emergency sewing kits small enough to fit in a wallet. Field & Stream magazine posted a tutorial on how you can construct a tiny survival kit that will fit into an Altoids tin, or a container of similar size. This one contains a sharp blade, wire, fishing tackle, a compass, bandaids, pins, string, needles, matches, and water purification tablets. There are options for other emergency gear, depending on how you want to configure your kit. Can you get all that into an Altoids tin? It depends on how small the components you find are.

Survival Kit in a Sardine Can

Think Geek sells a ready-made kit pre-packed with tiny amount of emergency supplies in a sealed sardine can (sardines not included). Inside are basic supplies for first aid, fire, navigation, and food, but only enough for one short emergency.

Wedding Survival Kit

There are many wedding emergency kit checklists available full of extras you may or may not need to repair clothing, freshen hair, and keep calm on your wedding day. You can even buy them prepackaged. I particularly like the gift kit that Ashley made when her friend Stacey got married in Las Vegas. It’s so easy to forget something when you’re headed to a destination. Ashley packed everything from the practical (bobby pins, stain remover) to the celebratory (booze, chocolate), with a list of the items pasted on the lid. A good time was had by all.

An Engineer’s Emergency Kit in a Business Card

After you’ve had a few emergencies, you get a better idea of what you’ll need for the next one. Computer engineer Saar Drimer developed his own very useful emergency kit for engineers that’s the size of a business card and can be stashed in a wallet.

The concept was to have throughole components embedded within the PCB and soldered lying down. The components -- two resistors, LED, NPN MOSFET, and a capacitor -- form a complete circuit so that when voltage is applied, the LED turns on.

It's meant to be an engineer's emergency kit. When all hope is lost, the MacGuyver engineer could snap out one of the components and save the day. Recall the countless times you desperately needed a 1 KOhm resistor to fix an amplifier at a party, only to see the girl you were trying to impress slip away with an OCaml programmer? Never again with this little kit. You even have 2 cm of solder in there to make sure the connection's electrically solid!

Drimer eventually developed this idea and designed a tiny engineer’s kit with all these components and more that you can buy.

Gentleman's Survival Kit

Blogger pscmpf was inspired by a vintage leather suitcase he found on Etsy and fashioned it into what he calls a Gentleman’s Survival Kit. The lovely handcrafted kit has what you need most: a hatchet, matches and kindling, and a safely secured bottle of Jack Daniels. He’ll be ready for any emergency!

Zombie Apocalypse Kit

Major Surplus and Survival has a kit labeled Zombie 3-day Survival Kit, which sounds silly, but it actually has some basic survival supplies for an unspecified emergency situation, like water, tools, first aid supplies, and high-calorie energy bar.

Redditor Nessabean had a different idea. In the specific event of a zombie apocalypse, what you really want are weapons, and lots of them. And maybe a can of Spam. She made this glass-encased zombie emergency kit for her husband’s birthday.

If you prefer to make your own zombie survival kit, Instructables has a good checklist.

The Zombie Apocalypse Charm Bracelet

One of the easiest ways to carry your survival supplies with you at all times is on a bracelet: A charm bracelet, like this Zombie Plan Charm Bracelet from Etsy seller PlayBox. Your zombie apocalypse supplies can be customized to your specifications.

Vampire Slayer Kits

Vampire slayer kits may have been around for centuries in one form or another, but they became very popular after the 1897 publication of the novel Dracula. Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museums have 26 vampire slayer kits, but that in itself doesn’t tell you they are old or authentic. The most complete authentically-old kit I’ve seen is this one pictured above that was sold several years ago. The winning bid was $14,850! It contains a variety of crosses, including a crucifix, wooden stakes, Bibles, garlic (which is probably not 200 years old like the other items), holy water vials, daggers, a bezoar, and just in case you run into a werewolf, a gun and silver bullets.

Photograph from Phineas J. Legheart at Facebook.

Newly-constructed vampire kits are available, too. Phineas J. Legheart sells them in several sizes and configurations according to your needs.

But you really can’t go wrong if you have the basic emergency survival kits depicted in the movie Dr. Strangelove.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]