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11 Essential Spring Cleaning Products

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amazon / istock

Dreading spring cleaning? Don't worry: These products will make your house sparkle in no time.

1. SCRUB DADDY; $15

The Scrub Daddy is no ordinary sponge—and that's not just because of its smiling face. The scrubber alternates between soft and rigid, depending on the temperature of the water you rinse it with. Gently wipe down dishes with a soft, warm sponge, or tackle harder stains with a colder, harder sponge. The product is the darling of Shark Tank, and it currently holds the title of being the top performing item from the show. In fact, if Bon Appétit is to be believed, it's the only Shark Tank product worth buying.

Find it: Amazon

2. INSTANT RUG REJUVENATOR; $50

Anyone with a light colored carpet knows the struggle of keeping it clean. This rug rejuvenator scrubs more vigorously than you could ever do by hand. It has two sets of rotating bristles that massage the carpet shampoo into the fibers. Once the shampoo dries, the crystals and dirt can all be easily vacuumed up. The simple cleaning process gives a deep and balanced clean that will make your carpet look and feel brand new.

Find it: Hammacher Schlemmer

3. DYSON CORD-FREE VACUUM; $560

Say goodbye to cumbersome cords and cables with a completely wireless vacuum. This popular Dyson vacuum is battery powered and runs on a digital V8 motor that can last up to 40 minutes. The powerful vacuum is great for getting dirt that's deeply wedged into corners and carpets, and you can even remove the handle and use the smaller handheld option for harder-to-reach areas.

Find it: Amazon

4. SWIFFER WET JET; $25

The Swiffer Wet Jet is an improved version of the already beloved Swiffer mop. Similar to its predecessor, the flexible mop has a special, disposable pad that dirt clings to. What sets the Wet Jet apart is the battery-powered stream of cleaning solution that you can expel with the push of a button. As you might expect, wet floors are much easier to clean, and the cleaning solution leaves a refreshing smell.

Find it: Amazon

5. ONE-HANDED BROOM AND DUSTPAN; $30

Once you've finished sweeping, getting the pile into a dustpan can prove to be a bit of a problem. This unique dustpan aims to make the process somewhat simpler by removing the handle. Instead, the device has a spot for your foot to keep it in place while you sweep in debris. And as a bonus, it even has a little comb on the side to clean out the broom when you're finished.

Find it: Amazon

6. MICROWAVE CLEANER; $5

Getting caked-on food off of the inside of a microwave is going to need more than just a sponge and some elbow grease. Use this "angry mama" cleaner to help loosen up the gunk first. Simply fill it with water and a bit of vinegar and microwave. The steam from the head will soften the splatters and help remove any funky odors.

Find it: Amazon

7. DUST MOP SLIPPERS; $8

If you haven't swept in a while, you might notice your socks beginning to pick up bits of dirt and hair—but now you can do that on purpose. Make your footwear work for you with these slippers that double as microfiber mops. Now you can clean your floors without even thinking about it, and then toss the slippers into the wash afterward.

Find it: Amazon

8. MR. CLEAN MULTI-SURFACE ANTIBACTERIAL CLEANER; $3

You can't go wrong with a classic. The well-known household staple has earned a place in clean kitchens across the country thanks to its ability to cut through thick messes on most surfaces without leaving streaks. It even got a shout-out from Good Housekeeping as the Best Overall multi-purpose cleaner.

Find it: Target

9. SPONGE GLOVES; $8

OK, these gloves may look ridiculous, but hear us out. When the sponge is built right onto the glove, it's one less thing to worry about, and having scrubbers attached to your fingers makes it easy to apply just the right amount of pressure to scrub off dried-on or burnt food residue.

Find it: Amazon

10. BAR KEEPERS FRIEND; $12

Bar Keepers Friend is about to be your friend for polishing appliances and cookware. The substance is tough on rust, lime, stains, and tarnish and comes with a non-scratching scourer cloth. Use it on white porcelain sinks and tubs, pots, pans, and anything else that needs a new shine.

Find it: Amazon

11. SUPER CLEAN; $15

Dirty keyboards and other gadgets are often the last things on your list to clean up. Now you can happily check it off first, using this giant yellow glob of goo. The Silly Putty-like substance is perfect for grabbing little bits of dust, dirt, and snack residue from your laptop, phone, and anything else with lots of nooks and crannies.

Find it: Amazon

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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