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10 Props that Have Been Used in More than One Movie

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When they need to cut costs, producers will occasionally re-use and recycle props that were used in other films. Here are 10 that keep turning up in movie after movie.

1. U.S. Marine AV-8B II Harrier Jet from The Avengers and True Lies

During The Hulk's battle with Thor on the helicarrier in The Avengers, Thor smashed the Hulk into the same Harrier Jet that was used in the climax of True Lies. Joss Whedon revealed this tidbit on The Avengers' special edition Blu-ray.

2. P.K.E. Meter from Ghostbusters, They Live, and Suburban Commando

Dr. Egon Spengler's P.K.E. (Psycho-Kinetic Energy) meter from the original Ghostbusters was re-used in various movies, including They Live and Suburban Commando. While Spengler used the prop device to find ghosts, the P.K.E. meter was used in They Live to track alien life and in Suburban Commando to find a freeze laser.

3. Golden Idol (Ancient Chachapoyan goddess of fertility) from Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Majestic

Twenty years after it appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the iconic golden idol that Indiana Jones tried to steal at the beginning of the film was re-used in The Majestic. It was part of the fictional in-film Sand Pirates of the Sahara, which is actually an homage to Indiana Jones. The golden idol also appeared briefly in Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams.

4. Space Station Model from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

The orbital office complex from Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the same miniature used for the Regula One station from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, just turned upside down. The prop was also re-dressed and re-purposed for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

5. Samurai Swords from Kill Bill and Sin City

Devon Aoki's character in Sin City, Miho, used two samurai swords that the character O-Ren Ishii also used in Kill Bill. In the Sin City special edition DVD, co-creators Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez admitted that in the film's mythology, fictional sword-maker Hattori Hanzo fashioned both katana blades for Kill Bill and Sin City.

6. Flying Car from Blade Runner and Back To The Future II

cyberboris / Universal Pictures

At the end of filming Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott wanted all of the prop vehicles destroyed so that no other movie production could use them in the future. However, the Spinner, the flying police car, wasn't destroyed—in fact, it was re-painted and re-purposed for Back To The Future Part II. Blade Runner's automotive concept designer Gene Winfield, who designed the Spinner, also worked on Back To The Future Part II to give the sequel a futuristic look and feel.

7. Body Armor and Helmets from Starship Troopers, Planet of the Apes (2001), and Firefly

Most of the military gear made for Starship Troopers was re-painted and re-used for a number of other productions, including the television show Firefly—Joss Whedon recycled Starship Troopers' Federation body armor for Alliance soldiers' uniforms—and the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake (director Tim Burton re-purposed Federation helmets for the ape SWAT team at the end of film).

8. 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 from almost every Sam Raimi movie

Sam Raimi includes his very own 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale in most of his movies, even if it is anachronistic. For example, it appeared in The Quick and the Dead, a Western set in the 1880s. According to Bruce Campbell, “Sam had [the car] stripped down and a wagon built on top of it.”

9. California license plate "2GAT123" from Beverly Hills Cop II, Training Day, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Role Models,Traffic, Mulholland Dr., Curb Your Enthusiasm, and many, many other movies

California no longer issues license plates in the "GAT" series, so movie productions keep using the plate because it's not tied to an actual identity or car. According to Curb Your Enthusiasm producer Bob Weide, "They're just prop plates that are used by a number of productions. The DMV puts certain number/letter combinations aside for this purpose. Any time you see a readable license plate in our show, it's a prop—slapped on the car by our propmaster."

Over the years, the "2GAT123" California license plate became as ubiquitous as the "555" phone number prefix, which is used for similar reasons, in movies and television.

10. A Newspaper from No Country For Old Men, A Murder of Crows, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), and a long list of TV Shows, including Modern Family, Married with Children, Scrubs, and Lucky Louie

For years, the same prop newspaper was used for a variety of movies and TV shows with the same recycled headlines and feature images. It featured a black-and-white photo of a woman with long thick hair and headlines that read, "She's 3rd Brightest But Hard 'Gal' To See" and "Compromised Housing Bill Sent to President for OK." According to Slate, the newspaper is from a small prop company in Sun Valley, California called the Earl Hays Press and was first printed in the 1960s. Movie and TV productions keep using the same prop newspaper because it's actually cheaper to pay $15 per prop than get legal clearance from an up-to-date New York Times or other real-life newspaper.

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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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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.