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15 Non-Sex Uses for Condoms

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A condom may just be the most versatile tool you have lying around. Some of these are good ideas. Some of them are terrible ideas. But all of them are real and tested. (NOTE: You’ll want to use unlubricated condoms for most of these.)

You can use condoms to … 

1. ... STORE WATER.

Compact, super-stretchy, and watertight, condoms are a survivalist’s dream. If you do it right, you can collect and store up to two liters of water in a single condom.

2. ... WRAP UP YOUR WEAPON.

Soldiers love condoms, and not just for the reason you think. GIs have covered their rifle barrels with condoms to keep the guns clean and dry since World War II. During the Gulf War, the British Ministry of Defense shipped 500,000 custom-made camouflage condoms to troops in Saudi Arabia with the express purpose of protecting the guns from filling with sand.

3. ... PLAY BALL.

Children in Chimoio, Mozambique, make soccer balls out of condoms. They scrunch up a few condoms as a lightweight core, tie them together, and cover them with rags. The kids get the condoms from their mothers or swipe them from family planning clinics, much to the consternation of public health officials. "When used consistently and correctly, condoms are an effective means of preventing HIV, gonorrhea and unwanted pregnancies,” one official told IRIN News, “but the results of distribution efforts can be reduced to zero when they're used to make toys instead."

4. ... GO FISHING.

Image Credit: Mike Warren

Left your bobber at home? No problem. Simply inflate a condom halfway, tie it off, and add it to your fishing line. Presto: instant bobber.

5. ... LET OFF SOME STEAM.

Feeling a little tense? Have you squeezed the life out of all your stress balls? Never fear: You’ve got the makings of a new one at home.

6. ... OPEN THAT %$*& PICKLE JAR.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, condoms can do pretty much everything. The next time you encounter a jar lid that resists even your mighty grip, try stretching a condom over the top. The rubber should provide enough traction to twist that sucker right open. 

7. ... DO SCIENCE.

Scientists and engineers digging up soil samples use condoms to protect both their collections and their equipment [PDF]. Science condoms also had a role in the D-Day invasion. Allied engineers used condoms to collect samples of sand from Normandy Beach, then analyzed the sand to make sure their vehicles could actually run up onto it without sinking.

8. ... WATERPROOF YOUR MICROPHONE (OR YOUR PHONE).

A hydrophone is an instrument for recording underwater noises. But not every sound team has a hydrophone. Those that don’t turn to condoms as a cheap way to waterproof a regular microphone. This same technique works for any other kind of small electronics, including smartphones, as long as you tie the knot very, very tightly. Mike Warren at Instructables says he can even use his touch screen through the condom. 

9. ... KEEP YOUR BANDAGE DRY.

Wearing a bandage or a cast is awful enough, but trying to bathe with one on just adds insult to injury. But you can waterproof your arm or leg with, yes, a condom. You should be able to fit a good part of your arm or leg into a condom. For wounds that don’t cover the hand or foot, just snip the tip off your condom, then pull it on like a sleeve.

10. ... FAKE A GUNSHOT WOUND.

Anybody with an army of computer graphics wizards at their disposal can add realistic-looking gunshot wounds to a movie. For the rest of us, there are condoms. Watch and learn as this young special effects guru walks you through the cheap-and-dirty (and kind of gross) process of gunshot-by-condom.

11. ... START A FIRE.

The condom is like the Swiss army knife of fire. You can use the condom to protect your tinder from the elements (dryer lint is a favorite). You can use the condom itself as kindling; it’ll burn super-hot for a few minutes, although the smell will be pretty bad. You can fill the condom with water and use it as a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on something flammable. And if all else fails and you have to resort to the rubbing-two-sticks-together method, you can twist the condom into thumb loops, which will really speed up the process.

12. ... SPEED UP YOUR WEAVING.

Sari weaving is an ancient art that’s been threatened in recent years by an influx of machine-made saris from China. To keep up their pace, weavers in Varanasi, India rub lubricated condoms on their looms’ shuttles to keep them moving fluidly. Weavers estimate that using condoms saves them about four hours per sari. They also use the condoms to polish gold and silver threads in the finished saris. The condoms are a natural choice, weaver Bacche Lal Maurya told Little India, because the lubricant doesn’t stain the silk—and because the condoms are free from local health centers.

13. ... JUMP OFF A BRIDGE.

But don’t, actually. In 2008, South African thrill seeker Carl Dionisio wove a 98-foot bungee cord out of condoms, then jumped off a bridge. Fortunately for Dionisio, the cord held. “I was 99 percent sure it would work,” he told Metro UK.

The cord, made of 18,500 condoms, took four months to make. “It was difficult, as the condoms were slippery,” said Dionisio, who apparently never considered using unlubricated condoms.

14. ... BUILD BETTER ROADS.

India’s health workers are really facing an uphill battle. Hundreds of millions of free condoms are handed out each year, but only one quarter of those ever see the inside of a bedroom. Sari weavers use many of them, but many more are used in construction. Condoms are mixed into tar and cement to smooth out roads and make them more resilient. They’re layered beneath cement plaster to keep monsoon rains from breaking through roofs.

15. ... SEAL UP THAT BAG OF CHIPS.

Image Credit: Mike Warren

Fresh out of rubber bands? Get out your condom and a pair of scissors. Lay the condom flat and cut straight vertical lines. If you’re careful, you can get a good 20 stretchy bands out of a single condom.

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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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