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19 Wildly Dangerous Home Remedies From 100 Years Ago

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It's hard to understand just how far medical science has progressed over the last hundred years ... until you look at what passed for standard, advisable treatment back then. Here are 19 doctor-approved ideas from Mother's Remedies: Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from Mothers of the United States and Canada by Dr. Thomas Jefferson Ritter, originally published in 1910.

1. Without the luxury of over-the-counter decongestant to soothe a stopped-up nose and scratchy throat, early-20th-century doctors advised an at-home method that would surely result in a malpractice suit. The three step process advised patients to smoke mullein leaves (making sure to exhale through the nose, of course), syringe a mixture of boric acid and water into the nostrils several times a day, and "frequently inhale" a mixture of ammonia, iodine and carbolic acid.

2. If the previous method failed to work, a "spray of a four-percent solution of cocaine" or direct application of a cotton ball soaked in an even stronger solution in the nostril was recommended for "immediate relief."

3. For a nosebleed, find "an old brown puff-ball from the ground," remove the insides and put it in the nose. Let it "remain for some time." In case you're curious what a puffball is, it's a kind of fungus.

4. No puffballs available? That's okay! A "similarly effective" method for curing that nosebleed suggests raising the arms above the head, applying ice or cold cloths to the neck or spine, and in extreme cases, "ice may be applied to the scrotum or breasts" while simultaneously syringing warm saltwater into the nostrils.

5. Here's a "splendid" liniment for sore throat:

Olive oil (half-pint), ammonia (half-pint), turpentine (half-pint), one egg. Shake until the mixture forms an emulsion. Apply to the neck and throat until a blister forms. Wipe clean and apply cold cream.

6. Suppose blistering your neck doesn't relieve your sore throat. What then? Cocaine, of course. Mix it with warm water and some olive oil and "paint it into the throat." Alternately, sucking on a cocaine lozenge before eating "will be found very useful."

7. Croup can be scary,especially for first-time parents. Should you travel back to 1900 and find your baby coughing spasmodically in the night, a "tested and true" treatment your neighbor might recommend is a spoonful of sugar. Not scary at all, actually. But before you give it to the kiddo, just put a few drops of kerosene on it. The idea, apparently, is to induce vomiting, which it probably does.

8. For asthma: "inhale chloroform." Assuming chloroform isn't readily available, other options include smoking saltpeter, the smoke of burning coffee, or cigarettes containing thornapple.

9. Tapeworms giving you grief? Two doses of the following mixture was considered an "excellent remedy": Castor oil (half an ounce) and turpentine (15 drops). Alternately, you can mix the previous two items with a cup of milk, but there's no indication that this makes it better.

10. If you find you're losing some hair, here's a quick and easy fix: Make some sage tea. Now mix it with an equal part whisky. Now take a sip, then add "a dash of quinine" to the cup and spray, paint or rinse over the scalp as often as needed, at least twice a day.

11. A slightly stronger anti-hairloss method (and one that's "guaranteed" to produce results) is to rub a blend of almond oil, rosemary extract, wine, distilled water, and mercury bichloride into the scalp every morning until your hair grows back or unexplained death, whichever comes first.

12. For dry, chapped skin: Spoon a few ounces of sour cream into a flannel cloth. Tie up the ends. Bury the cloth in some dark, soft soil and leave overnight. Dig the cloth back up "mid-morning" and apply the "enriched" sour cream to hands, knees, heels and elbows as needed.

13. Eczema is a challenging condition and there doesn't seem to be a universally effective treatment. Still, we do not recommend trying out the following DIY wash formula:

Mix half an ounce of laudanum with seven and one-half ounces of "sugar of lead," [that's lead(II) acetate]. Soak into gauze strips and apply to afflicted parts.

14. Lice are persistent and it may take several different treatments to get rid of them. One such treatment? Pure kerosene. Again, watch for the blistering, and make sure you follow up with some cold cream—24 hours later, when you're supposed to shampoo it out.

15. Got a problem with body lice? Just get some blue ointment. It's only 20% mercury, so you may need to apply it several times per day.

16. Ringworm is highly contagious and nothing to mess around with. If you find yourself stranded in 1905 with a case of the unsightly infection, mix some gunpowder with vinegar to form a thickish paste. If one application doesn't do it, two or three should knock it right out.

17. Anyone with acne can tell you it's difficult to treat. That's why there are so many products available now. But it seems our great-grandparents had no idea what to do, because a mixture of lard and ground cannabis indica seems counter-effective and is illegal in most states.

18. Got a sunburn? Mix together equal parts cornstarch and oat flour, then drop in a dram of lead carbonate. Just dust it wherever, no worries.

19. For canker sores, there are many, many recommended treatments that have been "proven effective" by brave and no-longer-alive people, including tomato juice, half a lemon held against the area, rinses of baking soda and boric acid and vinegar. Or if you're feeling especially bold, a piece of raw chicken skin can be applied to the sore and left "until no longer painful."

Just to reiterate: None of these are healthy or advisable. Please don't put puffballs in your nose or lead on your scalp.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]