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10 Apps to Organize Your Life

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We use our phones for most everything—sharing photos, staying in touch with loved ones, reading the news—so why not turn your go-to device into an all-around assistant for #adulting? These mobile apps will keep you organized in all aspects of your life, from consolidating your financial information to saving that A+ interview outfit for your next big meeting. You'll feel better organized after just a few downloads.

1. MANAGE YOUR FINANCES WITH MINT.

Owned by Intuit (the financial services firm behind TurboTax and QuickBooks), this secure app is like a digital financial planner. After entering your banking and credit card information, Mint keeps tabs on your transactions and sorts all your purchases into categories. Tabulate budgets with a few clicks, set goals for savings (pegged to, say, a vacation), and even keep an eye on your credit score.

Get it: Apple, Android

2. MAKE NOTES YOU WON’T LOSE ON EVERNOTE.

Simple and streamlined, Evernote began as a notepad of sorts, but it’s expanded to include the ability to set reminders, snap photos (and store them with notes you’ve made), record audio, and sketch diagrams or jot down quick notes with your fingertip. Plenty of professionals use Evernote as their primary organizer, and for a monthly fee you can upgrade to the Plus or Premium levels ($3 and $6, respectively) for additional perks.

Get it: Apple, Android

3. SATISFY YOUR CRAVING FOR A CLASSIC TO-DO LIST WITH ANY.DO.

For those who get a kick out of crossing items off a paper to-do list, Any.do will give you that same sense of accomplishment. Each time you complete a task, simply swipe right and the app strikes through the item and moves it to the bottom of the list. Just shake your phone for completed tasks to disappear.

Get it: Apple, Android

4. NEVER FORGET A PASSWORD AGAIN, THANKS TO LASTPASS.

This mobile app stores all of your passwords in one place, so you need only remember one code—your last pass—to access virtually anything. Add any password-protected sites, apps, or accounts to the vault, and LastPass will automatically log you in with the new, unique passwords the app creates. (Note: Your master pass better be on point … and one you won’t forget.)

Get it: Apple, Android

5. AVOID DATA ENTRY ON WORK TRIPS WITH SHOEBOXED.

Business travelers can snap photos of receipts, keep track of mileage, and even put together expense reports with this mobile app, which has legs far beyond the office, too: Self-employed folks can easily keep track of purchases and save records for tax time. Or, if you’re traveling with a group, this is an easy way to keep tabs on who bought what, so you can level the bill later on.

Get it: Apple, Android

6. BECOME A KNOW-IT-ALL IN THE KITCHEN WITH HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING.

Ever wondered, as you surveyed the fridge after a long day, “How should I cook that?” Don’t just Google it—you’ll waste time scrolling through results and likely come across plenty of sub-par ideas. Instead, turn to How to Cook Everything, the app based on Mark Bittman’s bestselling cookbook. Search for broccoli or chicken if that’s what you’ve got on hand, or explore tried-and-true techniques and preparation ideas.

Get it: Apple

7. SAVE OTHER DINNER IDEAS—AND MORE—ON PINTEREST.

You probably already use the site to pin crafts you’ll never make or outfits you’ll never have. Try using the app for saving totally doable recipes, which you can pin to specific boards you need, like “On-the-Go Breakfast” or “Quick and Easy Dinners.” This way, you can actually find them when the time comes. (And, sure, you can pin those aspirational home design ideas, too.)

Get it: Apple, Android

8. BOOKMARK STORIES YOU WANT TO READ LATER WITH POCKET.

Don’t have time to read that article or watch that video—but want to make sure you can find it later? This mobile app lets you do just that with links, videos, and news articles, saving the content in the app so you can access it when you have time (like on your commute or while you’re waiting for friends at a restaurant). 

Get it: Apple, Android 

9. AUTOMATE YOUR WARDROBE WITH STYLEBOOK.

Stylebook Closet App Introduction from Stylebook App on Vimeo.

For those who look in their closet and think “I have nothing to wear,” this $3.99 gem puts your clothing to work. It does take a little legwork—you snap photos of each item of clothing you own and sort them into categories—but then you’ll have a snapshot of your entire closet at your fingertips. Save outfits you love, or plan what to wear on a calendar. If you go through the trouble of entering information for certain items, the app also calculates cost-per-wear—an easy way to see which pieces you should invest in and justify spending a little more on, for instance, a fab new work bag.

Get it: Apple

10. ORGANIZE TRAVEL ITINERARIES WITH TRIPIT.

Compile all your on-the-road details in one place with this mobile app. All you have to do is forward your flight confirmation, car rental and hotel reservations, and whatever else you’ve planned to plans@tripit.com and the app will piece together a day-to-day itinerary for your vacation, which you can access anytime. You’ll never dig through your bag for print-outs or stress about that lost confirmation number again.

Get it: Apple, Android

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technology
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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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