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12 Ways to Use Leftover Eggshells

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After the Easter egg hunt is done, the ham has been served, and the ears have been bitten off the bunnies, you may find yourself making excessive amounts of egg salad and facing a giant pile of eggshells. But don't throw them out! Because the shells are an organic material packed with calcium and a perfectly abrasive texture, they have lots of benefits that you can tap into for plenty of helpful uses at home.

1. BOOST YOUR TOMATO PLANTS.

Easter means the summer growing season is not far off, and if you're industrious, you might already be growing some seedlings to get a jump on things. When you plant or pot your tomato plants, put some eggshells at the bottom of the hole or the pot. The shells are loaded with calcium and can help protect your tomatoes from calcium deficiency, which causes blossom-end rot.

2. MAKE YOUR OWN HOUSEHOLD CLEANER.

Eggshells are naturally abrasive but don’t contain the toxic chemicals you find in store-bought cleaners. Because of this, they make for a great multi-purpose householder cleaner. For this use, be sure to use eggshells from your deviled egg platter that have not been dyed (it’s OK to use those with stickers if you peel them off). Dry the eggshells completely and then pulverize them in a food processor. Mix them with baking soda in a 1:3 ratio (for example,1 tablespoon of eggshells to 3 tablespoons baking soda) and add water to moisten the mixture. This is a great way to scrub your stovetop, pots, counter, or water stains from your shower.

3. CLEAN YOUR DRAINS.

Dry and pulverize the shells and sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of the powder into the kitchen sink when you drain it after washing dishes. The abrasive egg powder will cling to the bits of food in your pipes and turn into little scrubbers as they move through the pipes. This will help reduce build-up throughout your plumbing.

4. MELLOW OUT YOUR COFFEE.

Make sure your eggshells are clean and do not contain any of the egg membrane (and only use plain shells or those decorated with natural food coloring). Put some of the eggshells in your coffee grounds when you add them to your coffee maker. Eggshells are mostly calcium, which is alkaline, and can absorb some of the acid in the coffee, giving it a mellower flavor. In fact, one test found that stirring some eggshells in a cup of over-brewed coffee also improved the taste.

5. USE INSTEAD OF A BOTTLE BRUSH.

If you have a vase with those annoying, impossible-to-reach water marks on the inside, drop some crushed eggshells into the vase with a little bit of warm water and a drop of dish soap. Swirl the mixture around, and the abrasive shells will scrub off the water marks and rinse right out.

6. HATCH SOME SEEDLINGS.

If you’re agile enough to keep roughly half of an eggshell intact, it makes the perfect container for starting seedlings. Place the shells in an empty egg container (or spruce things up with one of the pretty ceramic egg crates that are popular). Partially fill the shells with dirt and plant the seedlings. When it’s time to transplant them, you can just put the whole shell right into the ground since it is biodegradable and will add to the calcium in the soil (but give the shell a crack on the bottom before planting so the roots don't have any problems getting through).

7. GET RID OF GARDEN PESTS.

Diatomaceous earth is often used in gardens to control beetles, slugs, roaches, and other pests. This natural product is basically ground up fossils, which is an abrasive material that irritates, dries out, and eventually kills the bugs. Leftover eggshells can create the same effect. Pulverize them and sprinkle directly on the pests, their nests, or around the leaves or base of your plants to help control pest attacks.

8. SCARE AWAY STRAY CATS.

If stray or neighborhood cats are using your garden to relieve themselves (or are taunting your dogs by tiptoeing through your yard), spread some roughly crushed eggshells around the area the cats are frequenting. Cats don’t like the crunchy, sharp feel of the shells on their paws, and will learn to avoid that area.

9. REPLACE ANY MICROBEAD CLEANSERS.

Beauty products with microbeads can no longer be produced after July 2017, when a law signed by President Obama in late 2015 goes into effect. Microbeads are great for exfoliation, but it turns out the tiny bits of plastic are damaging to the environment, particularly to fish, who ingest them. Eggshells, however, are a great, environmentally friendly alternative. Use plain eggshells without coloring; dry and pulverize the shells, and mix with an egg white. This can be used as an exfoliating cleanser or as a face mask.

10. ADD TO YOUR BIRDSEED.

Wild birds at your feeder will benefit if you add lightly crushed eggshells to the bird seed. Be sure to use shells that are plain or have only been colored with natural food coloring and have been completely dried (baking the shells at 250°F for about 10 minutes will do the trick). Female birds, who may be calcium deficient after laying their own eggs, will get a boost from this addition to the food. You can also gently crumble the shells and spread them on the ground for the birds if you don’t have a feeder.

11. REMOVE STAINS.

If you’ve got mugs stained from coffee and tea, eggshells can help return them to their original color. Crush the shells and place them in the mug with a little water and let it sit overnight. The porous shells will absorb the stain and leave your mugs clean without any crazy scrubbing on your part.

12. MAKE AN INEXPENSIVE CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT.

Plain or naturally colored eggshells can save you money on your calcium supplements. Studies have found that ground eggshells make a good substitute for manufactured calcium supplements (and in some cases might even be better). One eggshell contains about two grams of calcium, which is twice the recommended daily intake for adults. Rather than having your omelette with a side of shell though, you can add finely ground eggshells to any variety of food that you cook, like pizza or pasta. You can also mix ground shells into your dog or cat's meal as a calcium supplement.

All images via iStock.

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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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