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5 Money Moves to Make ASAP If You Lose Your Job

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Whether that pink slip comes as a total surprise or departmental layoffs have been looming for months, losing your job sucks—emotionally, professionally, and financially. It’s also incredibly common: Roughly 13 percent of U.S. workers think getting laid off is very likely or fairly likely to happen in the following year, according to a recent Gallup poll—and for workers under 29, that stat jumps to 18 percent.

“Going through these rough job transitions is totally normal, and most Millennials will go through it more than once in their careers,” says Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning.

Of course, going from making bank to making bupkis is enough to make anyone freak out—no matter how many times you’ve done it. But losing your job doesn’t have to spell financial ruin (or a diet of ramen noodles). The trick is to be proactive about slashing spending and stretching savings—as soon as you get the bad news. Here are the money moves to jump on:


Let’s be real: Unemployment benefits aren’t going to cover all of your expenses. But now is the time to claim every penny of help you’re entitled to. The benefit formulas vary by state, but most are based on a percentage of your former salary, with a maximum weekly benefit. In Illinois, for instance, someone without kids will receive at least $50 a week and at most $426. In California, the range is $40 to $450 a week. Every state has its own website detailing how to apply for benefits, as well as who to contact with questions. Get clicking.


While you’re unemployed, you can put any federal student loans into deferment—that means you’ll be able to halt payments entirely until you find a new gig and the government will pick up the tab on any interest that accrues. Private student loans probably won’t be quite so generous, but you might be able to switch repayment plays so you’re paying less each month or move the loans into forbearance until you find work.

“People sometimes wait until they can’t make the monthly payment to call their student loan providers, but the last thing you want to do is default on your loans,” says Bera. That money blunder can wreck your credit and cost you even more in hefty fees and penalties.


If you have a car payment or a credit card bill, jump on the phone and explain your situation. “All loan providers want to get paid, so they’re motivated to work with you to figure out a payment plan,” says Bera. “The first person you talk to might not have the authority to change the bill’s cycle length or lower your minimum payment, but if that’s the case, ask to speak with a manager.”


COBRA is a short-term solution that lets you continue with your company’s chosen healthcare plan, typically at a higher monthly premium. But ponying up for COBRA isn’t always the best money move. If you’re younger than 26, you might be able to sign on to your parent’s insurance instead. (And if they’re already carrying your younger siblings, the add might not even cost them a premium increase.)

If you think this layoff might signal a good time to start a freelance business, you might want to comparison shop for coverage on your state’s Health Insurance Exchange. And even if you do find that COBRA is your best bet, there’s no rush. “You have 60 days from the day you lose your job to elect for COBRA,” says Bera. “And you can back-date coverage if something does happen, so for most people hoping to find a job right away, it makes more sense to wait.”


Scrutinize your budget and cut out anything that’s not totally essential. That might mean swapping your pricey gym membership for free runs in the park or cutting the cable cord in favor of a Netflix subscription you split with your roommate. “Taking a serious look at your spending might also prompt you to make some tough choices, like not going to your friend’s wedding this summer,” says Bera. “Your friend might be mad at you at first, but tough. This is life, and s**t happens. It’s not worth putting a destination wedding on your credit card—especially if you don’t have a job.”

One unexpected perk of paring down your spending, she says, is that you might find you don’t miss the daily splurges nearly as much as you thought you would. That means when you do land your next job (and you will!), you can stick with the pared down budget and bank more of your new salary for savings.

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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]