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7 Practical Uses for Tattoos

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ThinkStock

Ink! Not just for sailors and sideshow freaks anymore! Tattooing has become a legitimate art form. And, like art, something magical happens when design and function meet. Consider seven ways tattoos are more than they appear (and two where they’re just confusing!).

1. Corneal Tattoos


Heidi Lassiter

There is a small percent of body modification enthusiasts who seek to have their corneas tattooed to some fabulous, mesmerizing color. That sort of corneal tattoo (which is rapidly becoming illegal in many states) is done by a tattoo artist, who should in no way be confused with a surgeon specializing in ophthalmology operating in a sterile setting. Ophthalmologists do perform a similar surgery, except with more conservative goals. If you suffer discoloration or scarring of the iris due to trauma or disease, corneal tattooing can disguise the scar. It does nothing to improve vision, however, and it is recommended only for patients who are already blind or near blind in that eye.

2. Radiation alignment tattoos

Melanie Cook

It’s usually not much of a tattoo. Just a few dots, sometimes even just one. It may be put somewhere you don’t like, such as your breast or near your prostate. You won’t have much say in the matter, because whatever argument you have, cancer has a better one. These permanent dots are placed by radiologists to help them align lasers. This ensures that cancer-fighting radiation is delivered to the right spot, every time. And to many cancer survivors, the dots serve as a tiny reminder of the fight of their lives.

3. Medic Alert Tattoos

Lindsay Pullen

If you’re allergic to penicillin, you probably will continue to be for the rest of your life. And it’s the kind of thing people need to know about, especially if the car accident you were just in makes you unable to tell them. Medic alert bracelets and necklaces are the traditional sign that your body needs special consideration in an emergency. If that information is tattooed on your body, you can’t forget to put in on or accidently drop it in the toilet. But there is one caveat. Don’t get too creative. First responders are trained to look at particular places such as the wrist and throat for medic alerts. They won’t always find it on your bicep, your back, or printed in graceful flowing script down the side of your ribcage.

4. Reconstructive Disguise Tattoos

Along the same lines of corneal tattooing is disguise tattooing. It’s not reconstruction, but rather the illusion of reconstruction.In cases like thinning hair and breast cancer, sometimes the illusion a skilled artist can create is preferable to an awkward reconstruction. Of course, some breast cancer survivors choose something a little grander when it comes to post-mastectomy tattoos. 

5. Temporary Kid IDs

The ID Company

Kids are slippery. I make my small daughter wear my business card in her shoe when we go to crowded places. I have a friend who puts a bracelet on her kid with beads that show her cell number, and another who just Sharpies pertinent information on her child’s leg when needed. None of these ideas are super great; the first two are easily lost and the last one is just weird. Temporary ID tattoos are a much tidier solution, allowing you to tag your child efficiently before releasing them into the wild.

6. Rulers

Hacked Gadgets

If you’re a craftsman or artisan, an accurate measurement tattoo is a great way to combine your passion with practicality. There aren’t many things you’re sure to use for the rest of your life. Your arm and standard units of measurement are likely two of them.

7. Mummy Tattoos

British Museum 

Sometimes a tattoo can be of use to you even if it isn’t on your body. Especially if you’re an archeologist, anthropologist, or any number of a great many careers ending in “ologist.” Mummies found all over the world, in completely different eras and civilizations, bare tattoos that serve as snapshots of their culture. Famous iceman Otzi probably practiced some form of acupuncture. People in Egypt have been tattooing Christian angels on their body since at least 700 A.D. And 1600 years ago Peru might have been host to a rare female-dominated society

Bonus: Two Tattoos that Are NOT Useful

DNR Tattoos

via

It is fair to hope that the clear black letters “DNR” tattooed across your chest will be enough to communicate your desire to not be resuscitated by artificial means. Many people get this tattoo with that intention. The problem is medical staff and first responders are not allowed to take it as a legal designation.  Does it mean “Do Not Resuscitate” or is it the initials of your beloved father close to your heart? Has your health improved substantially since you got the tattoo? Have you changed your mind? At best it will motivate responders to search out if you have a legal DNR document filed under your name, but it will not stop them from charging up the defibrillator. 

Blood Type Tattoos

fifciaa

Blood is an incredibly prejudiced substance, and will kill a patient if transfused into other blood that doesn’t match or accept it. A soldier’s dog tags ID his blood type, ostensibly so that he can be treated quickly for trauma. So it sort of make sense that tattooing your own blood type on your body would expedite any trip to the emergency room that might lie in your future. But don’t bother: Modern doctors will never give a patient blood without doing their own type test first—not even a dog-tagged man in a battle zone. Besides, in emergency situations, most first responders only carry plasma, which is safely blood neutral.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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