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10 Odd Things Swallowed, with X-ray Evidence

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You're gnawing on something for one reason or another, and sometimes instinct takes over and -whoops- you've swallowed it! If an inedible object is small enough and somewhat round (coins and stones), it will often pass through the digestive system on its own. Others need surgical intervention.

1. Knife

This x-ray of a knife eaten by a dog accompanied an article about the strange things dogs will swallow. Veterinarians advise dog owners to keep dangerous objects away from dogs, even if they seem much too big to swallow. Your dog can surprise you!

2. Rubber Duck

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A Staffordshire terrier named Ozzie swallowed a rubber duckie whole rather than lose it in a fight with another dog! The duck had to be removed surgically.

Vet Hannah Ferguson, who followed up Ozzie's treatment, said: "It's not uncommon for dogs to swallow strange objects, although they tend to chew them into little bits first.

"We did once have a Labrador which swallowed its entire bed, but Ozzie's is certainly the most entertaining x-ray we've ever seen."

3. Toy Dog

200xraytoy.jpgMurphy the Labrador Retriever had a habit of eating socks. He usually passed them with no trouble. One day his owner took him to the vet over distressing symptoms. An x-ray revealed that a plush fabric dog toy was lodged in Murphy's stomach and couldn't quite fit into the intestines. It was removed endoscopically, meaning they reached in and pulled it out through his throat. No word on whether Murphy went back to eating socks again afterward.

4. Fork

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A 10-year-old dog named Apachee in Raleigh, North Carolina swallowed a fork, with dire consequences. The fork pierced a vein in his chest and he began bleeding around the lungs. Emergency surgery saved him as doctors patched the vein and removed the fork. Apachee is expected to make a full recovery.

5. Electric Blanket

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If you told me a blanket had been swallowed whole, I would assume the swallower to be a dog. Not in this case. A 12-foot Burmese Python named Houdini managed to swallow not only a queen-sized electric blanket, but the cord and the control box as well! Veterinarians in Ketchum, Idaho had never operated on a snake before, but went ahead after consulting an expert by phone. The two-hour surgery to remove the blanket was successful.

6. Light Bulbs

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Ripley's Believe It Or Not featured this x-ray of a pine snake that had ingested two light bulbs. The snake must have thought they were eggs!

7. Magnetix

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Children tend to swallow small objects when they get a chance. Every year, doctors see cases of coins and other small objects that toddlers swallow. In most cases, the object will pass naturally. Magnets can cause problems, however. If a child swallows more than one magnet, they will attract each other in the digestive system and could rip through intestines. Eight-year-old Haley Lents swallowed around 30 pieces of her Magnetix set and suffered eight intestinal tears. It could have been worse without surgery to remove the magnets.

8. Key

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Adults have their own reasons for swallowing strange objects. 18-year-old Chris Foster, a student at Bournemouth University, had been drinking and didn't want the night of partying to end. So to prevent his friends from taking him back to his dormitory, he swallowed his room key! Foster had no recollection of the stunt, but sought medical help after being told of it. Doctors took x-rays and advised Foster that the key would eventually reappear without surgery.

9. Engagement Ring

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Simon Hooper wanted to propose to his girlfriend, but didn't want to pay for a ring. So he visited a jeweler in Dorchester, England. While the jeweler was distracted, Hooper swallowed a platinum ring! Hooper was arrested and x-rayed, but police had to wait for three days for the "evidence" to emerge. The jeweler says the recovered ring draws interest, but people don't want to buy it because they know where it's been.

10. Swords

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Sword swallowing can be a hazardous profession. When you do it right, no medical intervention is needed, but there are side effects, such as sore throat, lower chest pain, and intestinal bleeding. Are you surprised? Sword swallowers sustain injuries from their act at a higher rate than most performers. Most injuries occur when the performer is startled or distracted.

For more harrowing x-ray images, see X-Rays in the News.

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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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