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The Quick 10: 10 Self-Operations

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Listverse always has incredibly interesting topics, but this one by author Blogball particularly caught my eye today. Some are heroic, some are just nuts, and all of them are guaranteed to make you grimace at least once.
I summarized Blogball's list, but you should definitely check out Listverse for pictures and a much more detailed list. Then again, if you're totally squicked out by this list, maybe you should just stop right here.

trepanning1. Ines Ramirez, self C-Section. If that doesn't make every female reading this wince, I don't know what will! She sawed through her skin, fat and muscle with a knife and extracted the baby. Everyone ended up being fine, although she had to have surgery to fix the damage she did to her intestines.

2. Amanda Feilding, trepanation. I bet most of our intrepid mental_floss readers know what trepanation is, but in case you don't, it's when a hole is drilled through the skull to allow for better blood flow. At one point in time, it was thought to cure all kinds of ailments. Ms. Feilding thought it might work to relieve her fatigue but couldn't find a doctor to do it, so she performed the trepanation herself. Then she went and had a steak dinner and went out for the evening.
3 . Aron Ralston, self amputation. You probably remember Aron "“ he is a mountain climber who was pinned by a boulder and trapped for five days.

He amputated his right arm, which was trapped under the boulder, and then had to rappel down a cliff and hike out of the canyon to get help. He now has a prosthetic arm and still likes to mountain climb.

4 .Douglas Goodale, self amputation. This lobster fisherman got his hand and arm caught in a winch while out on the sea. His body was actually hanging out over the ocean, so he had to dislocate his shoulder in order to get himself back in the boat. The only way for him to free himself was to cut off his arm"¦ so he did. Then he drove the boat back to the harbor to seek medical help. He's fine today, and still catching lobster.

5. Dr. Leonid Rogozov, self appendectomy. Dr. R. was stationed at an Antarctic base when he discovered he was suffering from acute appendicitis. He had some people help him hold mirrors and retractors, but performed the entire surgery himself using just local anesthetic. He was back to work in two weeks.

nielsen6. Dr. Jerri Nielsen, self biopsy. She was stations at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999 when she found a lump in her breast. So, naturally, she performed a biopsy. The results were inconclusive; the military sent a plane with medical supplies and she performed another one. The lump was cancerous, so she started to give herself chemotherapy. When she made it back to the States, she had a mastectomy "“ her cancer is now in remission.
7. Sampson Parker, self amputation. Just last year, Sampson Parker was bringing in his harvest when his hand got caught in the rollers of a machine. Even worse, the machinery began to throw off sparks and caught the grass and debris on fire. He knew if he didn't get out immediately he would die, so he sawed his arm off with his pocketknife and dropped to the ground to break the bone. He survived, and while he recovered, his neighbors harvested the rest of his corn for him.

8. Joannes Lethaeus, self kidney stone removal. This is an oldie "“ it happened in the 1600s. He used a knife and cut a wound in his perineum, then stuck two fingers in the wound to pull the stone out, which documents say was the size of a hen's egg. Oh. My. God.

9. Dr Evan O'Neill Kane, self appendectomy and hernia repair. Out to prove that general anesthesia was way overused, the good doctor removed his appendix using just local anesthetic. Then, at the age of 70, he repaired his own hernia in just under two hours.

10. Deborah Sampson, self extraction of musket ball. She pretended to be a man and enlisted in the Continental Army in 1782. When she was shot, she refused to go to a hospital because she didn't want her true sex to be discovered. So she removed the musket ball in her thigh by herself, using a penknife and a sewing needle.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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