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15 New Uses for Old VHS Tapes

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Image Credit: Harry M via Instructables

Videocassettes may have gone out of circulation, but that doesn't mean they've gone out of fashion. Take a look at what you can do with your VHS copies of Kickboxer.

1. Pom Poms

Bajablue via Instructables

Eager to show team spirit? Try smashing a cassette real good, pulling out the tape, and winding it around your thumb and elbow. After you've pulled out about half of the spool—the tape should be rewound—tape the bottom and then cut the top. Repeat for second pom.

2. Wall Clock


Removing the guts of a cassette—most easily done with flimsy Don Swayze films—and replacing it with a quartz clock movement and battery casing can turn an old relic into a trendy way of knowing when it's time to throw out the rest of your ancient tapes.

3. Bracelet

lindarose92 via Instructables

By crimping the cassette tape and getting handy with a crochet hook, you can make a delightful accessory and potentially wind up on QVC.

4. Gift Ribbons


Any '80s film lover would be delighted to receive your gift when it's wrapped with the remains of Baby's Day Out and other John Hughes movies we'd really rather forget. 

5. A Table

BilletHQ via Instructables

A wooden board and a little glue are all you need to create an attractive, postmodern statement. Can you build a table in the cloud? No. You cannot.

6. Storage Case


Whether you hollow out a tape or use one of the clamshell cases, old media makes for a perfect storage case.

7. Yarn Dispenser

mattopensource via Instructables

For this project, you'll need yarn, VHS spools, and an incredible amount of patience. (For the discarded tape, have you considered pom poms?)

8. Crochet Shopping Bag

SofieCasparsen via Instructables

Sure, sure: you want to go green for grocery trips, but those canvas bags aren't doing it for you. Try crocheting this sturdy and reusable sack that makes a fashion and environmental statement.

9. USB Hub

HarryM via Instructables

A soldering gun, some LED lights, and a USB hub are all you need to turn this 50-cent garage sale castoff into a conversation piece.

10. Picture Frame Cases

Remember how those colored hard shell cases always looked weird and wrong next to all of your regular tapes? They're finally getting their due on your wall: slide pictures into the plastic sleeve and hide your valuables inside.

11. Foosball Table

The work of an obvious genius, this game table would be the talk of any recreation room.

12. Bird House

VHS bird houses with little clothespin perches have been spotted as far away as Belgium. 

13. Wall Shelving

No need to visit IKEA when you have a box full of old tapes: just grab some glue and wall mounts to make some space-conserving wall shelving.

14. Rope

Schtaunkton via Instructables

Make sure you wear gloves before stretching out a few spools of tape. Once it's thinned out, a rope jig can be used to thread some strong cord.

15. Planter

Spotted by this blogger, these VHS planters are eye-catching and could save you a trip to the home improvement store. (Actually, you'll still need to go for glue. And plants. And soil.)

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]