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How Often You Should Do 12 Household Chores

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Ah, spring cleaning: the most daunting of seasonal rituals. Scouring the bathroom tiles and organizing your closet may be a drag, but if you stay on top of your weekly and monthly chores, keeping your home fresh and tidy will be a much more manageable feat. Here’s how often you should tackle 12 household tasks.

1. CLEAN YOUR MICROWAVE // WEEKLY

Many people think the heat in the microwave will kill all the germs and bacteria in the food you're heating, but this isn’t the case, says Mitrovic, founder of the cleaning service Uber Clean House in Melbourne, Australia. “It’s important to properly clean your microwave at least once a week,” Mitrovic recommends. Do this by microwaving a large cup of water, vinegar, and a chopped-up lemon until the solution boils and steams the window.

2. CLEAN YOUR KITCHEN RANGE HOOD // DAILY

You should wipe down the hood as part of your daily kitchen routine, says Harriet Jones, cleaning supervisor with Go Cleaners London. “However, you can clean the filter monthly—the more frequently you clean the filter, the easier it will be,” Jones says.

3. CHANGE YOUR SHEETS // WEEKLY

Sweat, dust mites, and dirt accumulate very quickly, especially since you’re typically lying on those sheets for eight hours every night, says Becky Rapinchuk, author of Simply Clean and blogger at CleanMama.net. The sheets should be washed using hot water (130 to 150°F) and a hot dryer cycle to kill the germs.

4. INSPECT YOUR DRYER VENTS // ANNUALLY

It’s important to inspect and clean the vents—and replace them if necessary—because they accumulate lint that is highly flammable and can cause a fire, Jones says. Depending on the number of people in your family and the dryer’s use, you may need to do this more frequently than once per year.

5. WASH YOUR PILLOWS // EVERY SEASON

Your pillowcases put a barrier between you and your pillows, but they still collect sweat, saliva, and other body fluids, says Nic Croughan, interiors expert at Custom Curtains in the United Kingdom. Wash instructions will vary by pillow (is it down, synthetic, or memory foam?), so check the manufacturer's instructions before throwing in the washing machine or dryer.

6. CLEAN YOUR REFRIGERATOR // EVERY OTHER WEEK

To avoid moldy food build-up (and so you don’t completely forget what’s in there), it’s important to give your fridge the attention it deserves, says Tova Weinstock, a professional organizer and cleaning enthusiast based in Brooklyn. “Also, fridges get dirty from spills, loose food particles, and even dust,” Weinstock says.

7. CLEAN YOUR WINDOW TREATMENTS // AS NEEDED

Wooden and Venetian blinds require a weekly dusting, while fabric curtains can get away with being washed annually—the exception being if your window dressing is in a particularly damp space, such as in the bathroom or above a sink. Then you'll need to clean it more often, advises Croughan. “We recommend using steam as an effective cleaning method, and if your curtains are very expensive, turn to a professional,” Croughan says.

8. CLEAN YOUR OVEN // EVERY FOUR TO SIX MONTHS

Accumulated grease and grime over time will cause the oven to use more power when it's turned on, which will lead to higher bills, says Lauren Haynes, cleaning expert with Star Domestic Cleaners. It can also ruin the taste of the food, she says.

9. WASH YOUR TOWELS // EVERY THREE OR FOUR USES

After drying off, it’s best to leave your towel in a well-ventilated place so that it can air-dry completely, Jones says. This will keep the bacteria at bay for a couple uses—but then it's time to throw your towel in the wash.

10. CLEAN YOUR TOILET // WEEKLY

It’s estimated that there are nearly 50 bacteria per square inch on the seat of the toilet, Jones says. To deep clean your toilet, cleaning expert Leslie Reichert tells TODAY that you should turn off the water to your toilet and give it a flush to completely empty the bowl of water. Then sprinkle a homemade baking-soda-based cleaning solution (or a store-bought toilet cleaner) into the toilet bowl and give it a good scrub with a scrubby sponge (while wearing gloves, of course!). Then add a cup of distilled white vinegar and allow to sit for one hour.

11. CLEAN YOUR FAN VENTS // MONTHLY

Dust, pollen, and other allergens can block the vents, Jones says. “If you have any refurbishment work done, you definitely need to clean, or at least inspect, the vents, as construction work spreads sawdust throughout the house, which can cause increased suffering of people with allergies or asthma,” she says.

12. CLEAN YOUR COUCH // ANNUALLY

“Along with brightening its appearance, regular cleaning will eliminate bacteria rooted deep in the furniture’s fibers, and leave your couch smelling fresh,” Jones says. “Cleaning your upholstery will also reflect on the air quality and will reduce the risk of mold and mildew growing.” If it's been a while since you've had your upholstered furniture cleaned (or if you never have), it might be worth investing in a professional cleaning.

All images courtesy of 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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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