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15 Uses for Obsolete Technology

With each successive step forward in technology, humanity gets a little bit better at solving medical problems, gathering knowledge, and streaming '80s sitcoms.

Unfortunately, with progress comes obsolescence—and obsolescence tends to create a lot of waste. If you’re not in the mood to hold a yard sale and you don’t want to toss your Betamax or Walkman in a landfill, you might take some inspiration from these 15 ways people have recycled their old tech.

1. THE VHS TOASTER 

We can’t exactly advocate wiring an old VHS recorder so it contains heating elements and a rapid-eject feature. We can advocate watching someone else do it.

2. THE COMPUTER MONITOR KITTY CONDO

AlpineButterfly via Instructables // CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Flat screen displays have made it easy to forget how cumbersome CRT monitors were. It turns out all of that spacious real estate is perfect for cat occupancy once you’ve ripped out the tube.

3. CASSETTE TAPE ART

Artists like Nathalie Santa and Erika Iris Simmons have mastered the art of unspooling old audio cassettes and arranging the magnetic tape into fantastic portraits of famous figures.

4. A TV FISH TANK

DoerflerDesigns via Etsy

Console televisions are hideous. But they’re also pieces of furniture that can be upcycled into something approaching pop art. Several sites have instructions for creating a water-tight seal and turning the set into something that broadcasts an all-fish channel.

5. A TURNTABLE DRAWING ROBOT

Machine screws, clothespins, and a Sharpie are all you need to cobble together a kind of Spirograph using two turntables. Just make sure they have a variable pitch control so you can manipulate the speed of your automated doodles.

6. A FLOPPY DISK PENCIL HOLDER

GeekGear via Etsy

Depending on how old your kids are, they may think this floppy disk pencil holder is cool—or repurposed alien technology. Some light drilling and cable ties will bundle the old hardware together to make for an attractive, functional way to ease up on desk clutter.

7. MOTHERBOARD JEWELRY

HardResols via Etsy

The fine people at motherboredjewelry.com upcycle pieces of discarded motherboards, RAM chips, and other outdated computer guts to make fashionable, eco-friendly jewelry. We’re partial to the bookmarks.

8. VHS COVER SPIRAL NOTEBOOKS

WhyIsThisOpen via Instructables // CC-BY-NC-SA 2.5

It turns out that old cardboard VHS covers are exactly the right kind of durable to repurpose as a spiral notebook. All you’ll need are some pliers, a paper knife, and a ruler to remove the boring store-issued cover and replace it with your favorite Frank Stallone vehicle. 

9. HOLIDAY ORNAMENT CDS

Glittery tree ornaments don’t have to be expensive. If you have unwanted CDs, you can smash them up—or use a good pair of scissors to snip them—and glue the individual pieces to a bare glass bulb. The effect is surprisingly cool, and a way better use for Richard Marx recordings than one would ever think possible.

10. AN APPLE iBOOK WALL CLOCK

PixelThis via Etsy

Apple laptops are so sleek that even one destined for the garbage bin makes for an attractive wall decoration. Several sellers on Etsy have used them to make hanging clocks, with the mouse doubling as a pendulum.

11. A FLOPPY DISK BAG

GeekkiBoutikki via Etsy

Gather a few dozen floppies, drill holes, and string them together using craft store chain links for a boxy-yet-awesomely-nostalgic piece of mobile storage.   

12. A PC DESK FAN

Have a desktop chassis sitting in the basement that used to make an unholy noise with the fan? Turns out those little things are perfect to keep you cool in the warmer months. Some crafty people even use a hard drive as a stand.

13. A PC CASING MAILBOX

Amuse your mailperson by gutting an old desktop and mounting it out front to create a clever letter drop.

14. A PRINTER COIN TUMBLER

Ever wish you had a coin tumbler? Ever wish you could find a new use for an ancient printer? Solve two problems at once by modifying a printer to tumble and clean loose change.

15. A CD CASE BAGEL HOLDER

Not crafty or absolutely unable to craft anything without risking injury? You’re still in luck: The spindle from a stack of blank CDs is already the perfect size, shape, and configuration for a bagel. Bonus: the plastic cover keeps the bread from getting mushed while being transported.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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