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11 Products That Kept Dad Looking Dapper

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Dad’s (or Granddad’s, depending on your age) grooming routine didn’t always consist solely of soaking his dentures in Polident and occasionally trimming his ear hair. Believe it or not, he was once a dashing young rake who got all dressed up and spit-shined before going out on the town. How many of these products do you remember the ol’ man using to look and smell his best?

1. Brylcreem

The secret to achieving shiny patent leather hair à la Clark Gable or Tyrone Power was Brylcreem. Apparently, nothing drove women wild back then like a head that Exxon could use to pump 20 barrels of oil a day. The company’s slogan was “a little dab will do ya,” but judging from the way their hair stayed plastered in place, it appears that most men were overdoing the dabs.

2. Vitalis

Even after Clark, Tyrone, Cary, et al. had been replaced onscreen by Marlon Brando and James Dean, Brylcreem was still embraced by younger men who constantly combed the stuff through their DA’s. (Those Fonzie-types weren’t called “greasers” because they ate a lot of deep-fried food.) When Brylcreem started to get identified with teenage hoods, the makers of Vitalis water-based hair tonic had a brainstorm and launched an advertising campaign disparaging grown men who still used that “greasy kid stuff.” The phrase went viral and was even the topic of a 1962 novelty tune by Janie Grant.

3. Groom & Clean

Another water-based pomade, Groom & Clean’s main selling point was that, with regular use, you could just run a wet comb through your hair to remove unsightly oil and dandruff. Because God forbid you should try shampooing more than once a week.

4. Afro Sheen

Men who wanted to blow out their hair to Clarence Williams III-size proportions turned to Johnson Products’ Afro Sheen Blowout Kit. President Barack Obama revealed at a Democratic fundraiser last year that he sported a ‘fro back in 1978, but that it was never as “good” as Dante de Blasio’s, the son of NYC’s mayor.

5. Dry Control by Vitalis

Once men started growing their hair longer and feathering it, they needed something manly to protect it from the elements. Plain ol’ Aquanet would have done the trick, but professional athletes don’t want to go around smelling like a beauty parlor, do they? Gillette introduced The Dry Look in the early 1970s, and once it proved to be successful, Vitalis followed suit with Dry Control. Pete Rose, Bob Griese, and Pete Maravich all appeared in TV commercials for the product, thus providing it with some definite testosterone credentials.

6. Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic

In the 1920s, the makers of Wildroot advertised it as a treatment for “falling hair”—that is, it would help to prevent baldness. Once the Federal Trade Commission started getting picky about such claims, Wildroot was promoted as a tonic in the same vein as Brylcreem. The secret ingredient was lanolin, which certainly held one’s hair in place; it also tended to cause acne-like eruptions around the hairline among the more sensitive-skinned folks.

7. Aqua Velva

When Aqua Velva aftershave originally hit store shelves in 1937, it was the color of straw and had a fairly high alcohol content. In fact, during World War II, military base PXs couldn’t restock the product fast enough. Soldiers and seamen weren’t buying AV for its skin-bracing effect; they were drinking the stuff! It was cheaper and more readily available than liquor. The Ice Blue variety that our Dads started wearing was a result of WWII abuse—the government asked JB Williams to add something to their product to discourage our fighting men from downing it. The bittering agent the company used turned the product bright blue without changing the fragrance. But military types weren't dissuaded: They simply poured the product through a slice of bread before drinking to remove the bitterness. Civilian males, meanwhile, started buying up the product because of that cool blue color.

8. Hai Karate

Hai Karate aftershave was launched in 1967 in an effort to capitalize on the burgeoning martial arts craze. Thanks to his role as Kato on TV’s The Green Hornet, Bruce Lee had become a “name” in the U.S. and chop-socky movies were gaining a cult following. Hai Karate’s success was mainly due to an imaginative advertising campaign, wherein any male who used the tantalizing fragrance (which actually was a sort of sickening patchouli incense-type smell) would immediately attract so many sex-crazed females that he’d have to resort to tae kwon do to fend them off.

9. Lectric Shave

We’ve discussed aftershaves, but Williams’ Lectric Shave is a before shave product. Electric shavers were quick and efficient, but they just didn’t give the close cut of a traditional razor. Enter Lectric Shave, which contained enough alcohol to close the facial pores and lift the whiskers away from the skin a tad as well as some isopropyl myristate for a bit of lubrication.

10. Bay Rum

Once upon a time every barbershop reeked of Bay Rum when you first stepped inside. It was the stuff the barber slapped on a man’s face after giving him a good old-fashioned straight-razor shave. According to the label, it “invigorated and stimulated” the skin, which is marketing-speak for “it stings like a sonuvagun!” But it did smell good.

11. Noxzema Medicated Shaving Cream

Sure, a lot of men still use this regularly every morning. But how many of them visualize former Miss Sweden Gunilla Knutsson seductively encouraging them to “Take it off. Take it allll off” while they scrape their faces? Shaving in the 1960s was a much sexier affair.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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