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The Year 1975 (As Predicted By 1962)

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We here at Mental_floss love to uncover visions of the future -- especially when that "future" is already long past. (Consider, for example, this post about the year 2000, as predicted by Europeans at the turn of the 20th century.) Derrick Bostrom recently uncovered a book of tech and lifestyle predictions for the year 1975, made all the more absurd by the fact that it was published only 13 years prior. What follows are some pictures and captions from 1975: And the Changes to Come by Arnold B. Barach. (You can see the whole collection on Bostrom's site.)

The Future of Television

Two Variations of Future Television Sets. On the left, a triple-purpose unit for the housewife, enabling her to watch her children at play or identify visitors at the door or watch her favorite color television program. On the right, a salesman's video-audio tape player, housed in an attaché case, and designed to project visual sales presentations as well as to function as a dictation unit.

Can you imagine one of these guys whipping out one of these babies during a sales call?

The "Hi-Fi Sphere"

Hi-Fi Sphere. High-fidelity sets do not have to be square, and they do not have to be long. This look into tomorrow is an effort to blend the feeling of a musical instrument with modern electronics. Engineers have long maintained that a sphere is the ideal source of sound reproduction. Note these features: The cone speakers are retractable, can have a span of six feet between them, and can be pitched in any direction the best stereophonic effect. In the base of the sphere is a woofer speaker, facing inward. When not in use, the three-foot aluminum globe can be completely closed present a decorative sphere.

Forget the decorative sphere, where can I get one of those awesome lamps? (And by the way, which musical instruments look anything like this bizarre contraption?)

The Portable Oven

Oven in the Round. Portable oven, by designer Greta Magnusson Grossman, is intended for broiling and baking at the table, on the patio, or in the kitchen. Round half-spheres can be moved in either direction to open or close the oven. Cooking would be by fast radiant heat. Devices such as this point the way to new informality in the home.

This looks suspiciously like the hi-fi sphere to me ...

Toaster Bacon

Bacon in a Toaster. Bacon would be prefried, then hermetically sealed in this design for a future aluminum package. One way to heat it for eating would be to drop it in the toaster; another, put in oven or broiler. A major advantage is the elimination of utensils for cooking. Package is opened by turning back the edges. Leftovers are easily preserved by refolding the pouch.

I remember a commercial some years ago for a small novelty pizza you could cook in your toaster. The commercial's tagline was "who wants pizza from their toaster?" (I always thought that was an excellent question.)

Ultrasonic Dishwasher

Wash Dishes Ultrasonically. High frequency sound waves energize the water to wash the dishes in this ultrasonic dishwasher. A device called a transducer produces the high frequency sound waves (about 20,000 cycles per minute), pitched so high they cannot be heard by the human ear. Ultrasonic washers are more effective than existing types; they scour without scratching, remove baked-on matter readily, and wash much faster than any type now in general use. The same principle of ultrasonic cleaning will be applied to washing machines within another decade.

Flickr commenter Aaron pointed out: "20,000 cycles per minute, huh? Far from being inaudible, that's just E above middle C (333 Hz). But even 20,000 Hz would be audible to some people, particularly children."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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]