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Grin and Bare It: 11 Facts About Hair Removal

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The millennia-old quest for fuzz-free skin has been surprisingly, well, hairy. In ancient Egypt, for example, people relied on tools like seashell tweezers and pumice stones to keep their skin smooth, while cat poop was the depilatory of choice for the British in the 17th century. We’ve rounded up 11 more facts about the history of hair removal, which just might make you feel better the next time you decide to grin and bare it.

1. BEING HIRSUTE IN ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME WAS CONSIDERED GAUCHE.

At the time, if you had little hair it also probably meant that you had heaps of cash. Wealthy women used tweezers, stones, and early razors to remove all body hair, including pubic hair, which was considered unsightly. That’s why many Greek statues depicting the "ideal" female figure are devoid of any fuzz. (It's not believed to be related to paint flaking off the marble, as statues of males feature pubic hair that has been carved in.)

2. GOING BARE SOMETIMES INVOLVED ARSENIC.

One Renaissance-era DIY depilatory, according to a recipe from 1532, involved mixing one pint of arsenic and an eighth of a pint of quicklime, then smearing all over. “When the skin feels hot,” the text read, “wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

3. QUEEN ELIZABETH I WAS ALL ABOUT THAT FACE.


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Queen Elizabeth I removed most of the hair from her face—including eyebrows—but kept her body hair untouched. She was also in the habit of plucking the hairline around her forehead in order to make her face appear elongated. Naturally, her female subjects followed suit. Their depilatory products of choice: walnut oil, which was better than what women (and men) would soon be using. In the mid-17th century, Peter Levens gave a recipe titled “For to take away hair” that suggested the following: “[Get] hard cat’s dung, dry it, and beat it to powder, and temper it with strong vinegar; then wash the place with the same where you would have no hair to grow.”

4. THE PROCESS BECAME (A LITTLE) EASIER IN THE 1800s.

One of the first mass-produced depilatory creams, called Poudre Subtile, was created in the 1840s by the (fictitious) "Dr. T. Felix Gouraud." Not surprisingly, it could cause skin damage if applied incorrectly or left on for too long. In 1901, King Camp Gillette patented his first disposable razor for men. Fourteen years later, he crafted a razor specifically for women, delicately titled the "Milady Decolette."

5. BUT THE EARLY 1900s WERE THE PITS.

Around 1915, sleeveless dresses became fashionable. But with exposed armpits came societal pressure to remove decidedly unstylish underarm hair. That May, Harper’s Bazaar featured an ad of a young woman showing off her fuzz-free pits. The text read, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”

6. WORLD WAR II GAVE WOMEN THE RIGHT TO BARE LEGS.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A wartime shortage of nylon meant women had to go barelegged more frequently, which led to a slew of new hair-removal products—including the first electric women’s razor in 1940. It also launched a new trend: Women would draw stripes on the backs of their bare legs to give the appearance of stocking seams.

7. THE ADVENT OF THE BIKINI POSED NEW CHALLENGES.

When the two-piece first appeared the United States in 1946, women began to tweeze and shave the hair outside their panty line, too. Writes Sarah Hildebrant in The EmBodyment of American Culture, “As this history illustrated, the more clothes women were 'allowed' (or expected) to remove, the more hair they were also expected to remove.”

8. NEW METHODS TOOK ROOT IN THE '60s.

Although waxing itself is thousands of years old, the method took off again in the 1960s with the introduction of wax strips. Early laser technology was also harnessed in the battle against body hair, but these lasers weren't yet refined enough to avoid damaging surrounding skin and were quickly abandoned.

9. AND THEN THERE WERE THE BRAZILIANS.

In 1987, seven J-monikered siblings opened the J. Sisters nail salon in New York City. There, in 1994, Jocely, Jonice, Janea, Joyce, Juracy, Jussara and Judeseia introduced the States to South America’s go-bare-or-go-home philosophy. “In Brazil, waxing is part of our culture because bikinis are so small,” Jonice explains on the salon's website. “We thought it was an important service to add because personal care is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.” Today, Brazilian bikini waxing is the salon’s most requested service.

10. SOME CREDIT SEX AND THE CITY WITH GENERATING A BRAZILIAN BUZZ.

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In a 2000 episode of the HBO hit, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw feels decidedly bare after getting an accidental Brazilian bikini wax. Ildi Gulas, a wax and laser specialist at New York City's Spruce & Bond salon, told Refinery29 that scene gave the procedure “a major boom” in clients seeking out the service. But whether you credit the rise of pubic hair grooming to Sex and the City, the J. Sisters' NYC takeover, or the spread of pornography, the fact is that the majority of American women today either trim, shave, or wax the hair down there. In one survey, published in JAMA Dermatology earlier this year, 84 percent of the 3300 respondents said they've always groomed their pubic hair, while 62 percent admitted to getting rid of all of it at least once in their lives. (Back in 1968, 40 percent of women had never touched their pubes, while just 10 percent had ever gotten rid of it all.)

11. EVEN THE GOVERNATOR HAS DARED TO GO HAIRLESS.

While announcing his candidacy for governor of California on The Tonight Show in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger told Jay Leno, “It’s the most difficult [decision] I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.” Today, manscaping isn't limited to bodybuilders like Ahh-nold looking to show off their hard-won physiques. According to Inc., men's grooming pulls in $4 billion a year in the U.S.—$1 billion of which is from hair removal products. With those kinds of deep (cultural) roots, there's no way the hair removal industry will be going the way of, say, those errant hairs stippling your upper lip anytime soon.

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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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