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The Forgotten Uses of 8 Everyday Objects

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Some of the products we use daily have functions most of us are completely unaware of. From features not being used as the manufacturer intended, to details that are functionally outdated but still hanging on aesthetically, here are eight forgotten uses for everyday items.

1. THE TINY “EXTRA” POCKET ON YOUR JEANS

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You’ve probably noticed that some of your jeans have a small pocket located in one of the front pockets. Many people think the tiny addition is meant to keep coins from jingling around in the larger pocket, but according to Levi’s, they created it to provide extra protection for pocket watches. Nicknames for the wee receptacle include frontier pocket, condom pocket, coin pocket, match pocket, and ticket pocket.

2. THE HOLE IN YOUR POT HANDLE

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Most pots and many pans are designed with a small hole at the end of the handle. While they make for an easy way to hang your pots and pans when they're not in use, they were also designed with another purpose in mind: as a way to hold your spoon or spatula in place over the pot itself, and save yourself from making a mess of your stovetop.

3. THE LOOP ON THE BACK OF YOUR DRESS SHIRTS

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If you look below the collar and between the shoulders on the back of many men’s dress shirts, you may spot a little loop. Though most men probably don’t use it for its intended purpose—at least, not often—it's there to provide a convenient way to hang up the shirt when a hanger is unavailable. It’s said the "locker loop" practice began with sailors, who would hang their shirts on ship hooks while changing.

4. THE GLOVE COMPARTMENT

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It’s not just a clever name. While most of us probably use the dashboard hidey-hole in our cars to hold our vehicle registration and a stash of fast food napkins, early motorists actually used them to house their driving gloves. Though Packard added the compartment to their vehicles in 1900, it was British race car driver Dorothy Levitt who suggested that it was a perfect place for “the dainty motoriste” to keep a pair of gloves, which, at the time, were more about function than fashion (many cars still had open tops and drivers needed to keep their hands warm in order to steer them properly).

5. THE HOLES IN YOUR BOX OF ALUMINUM FOIL

If you've ever studied a box of aluminum foil or cling wrap, you may have noticed that there are little indentations that, once pushed in, create small holes on either end of the box. Look a little closer and the reason for these holes is printed right on the box: "Press to lock roll." Meaning you'll never have to deal with an unwieldy roll of tinfoil again.

6. THE DRAWER UNDER YOUR OVEN

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If you keep cookie sheets, cupcake pans, and pancake griddles in that narrow little drawer under your oven, you’re in good company—so does most of the rest of the world. But in many cases, that’s not how the manufacturer intended you to use it. Often, the compartment is intended to be a warming drawer, a place to keep finished food warm while other dishes are cooking. Some companies specifically warn against using the warming drawer for storage of any kind, so keep shoving your pans there at your own risk.

7. THE ADDITIONAL HOLES ON YOUR CONVERSE SNEAKERS

The main purpose of those seemingly extraneous pair of holes is to help with ventilation. But they're also there to provide a little extra lacing flair, should you so desire.

8. THE LOOP ON THE SIDE OF YOUR CARPENTER JEANS

Anyone who sported a pair of "carpenter jeans" in the late 1990s or early 2000s will remember that they came with a denim loop stitched on one side. Though they were purely decorative by that point, they hark back to real carpenter jeans, which have a number of pockets and loops meant to hold tools on the job.

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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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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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