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8 Very Hairy People

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Hypertrichosis is a rare genetic condition that results in extreme hairiness. It is sometimes referred to as "werewolf syndrome". Only about 50 cases in history have been documented. There is some speculation that Esau, son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, may have had hypertrichosis. He was described in the Old Testament as born covered in red hair, and was referred to as a hairy man by his brother as an adult. Here are several more cases.

Petrus Gonzales

Petrus Gonzales was born in the Canary Islands around 1556 and taken to be presented to French King Henri II due to his unusual appearance. As a member of the court, he was educated and showed great intelligence. He married and produced five hairy children, three daughters and two sons. A grandchild was also reported with hypertrichosis, and possibly more descendants were affected.

Julia Pastrana

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Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834 with hypertrichosis terminalis, meaning her entire body was covered with hair several inches long. She also had a deformed mouth with huge teeth, leading one doctor of the day to declare that she was "˜a hybrid between human and orangutan'. Pastrana was only four and a half feet tall but had a womanly figure. She began a career in freak shows at age 20, and was "managed" by several other handlers before she met exhibitor Theodor Lent, who eventually married her. At venues all over Europe, she was billed as part human, part animal but charmed audiences with her intelligence and grace. Pastrana spoke three languages and sang and danced on stage. At age 26, Pastrana gave birth in Moscow to a son who was also covered with hair, and who died within two days. Julia herself died five days later. Pastrana's body was traded around for exhibit and is profiled in the post 6 Restless Corpses.

Shaolin Grand Master Tai Djin

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Tai Djin was born in Fukien, China in 1849. His parents, not knowing what caused their baby's hairiness, abandoned him in a forest. Tai was found by a monk who took him to the Shaolin Temple where he was cared for by the Shaolin Masters. Tai grew up to be highly educated, knowing he wouldn't have much of a life outside the temple. He threw himself into learning martial arts -not just one discipline, but all of them! Tai achieved the title of Grand Master and is known from that point on as Su Kong Tai Djin. He was revered by his many students until (and even after) his death in 1928.

Fedor Jeftichew

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Fedor Jeftichew was billed as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1868 to a father, Adrian Jeftichew who also had hypertrichosis. The father and son appeared in sideshows together until P.T. Barnum brought the younger Jeftichew to the US in 1894. The sideshow story was that Jo-Jo was raised in the wild and captured by hunters. Although Fedor could speak three languages, he played his part and barked for the audience. In his time, Jeftichew was one of the highest-paid sideshow attractions in the world. He died in Turkey in 1904.

Stephan Bibrowski

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Lionel, the Lion-faced Man was born Stephan Bibrowski in Poland in 1891. Rejected by his mother as an "abomination", he was taken in by a German sideshow exhibitor when he was four years old. Bibrowski was a very intelligent man who spoke five languages and once aspired to become a dentist. His side show act included gymnastic tricks. Bibrowski appeared with Barnum and Bailey's Circus in the early part of the century, and at Dreamland Circus in Coney Island in the 1920s. He moved to Germany upon retiring from show business, and died of a heart attack in 1932. He was only 40 years old.

Percilla Bejano

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Percilla Lauther Bejano was born in 1911 in Puerto Rico, the only one of five children to be born with excessive hair. Her mother consulted with doctors, but could find no treatment for her. Percilla was adopted by exhibitor Karl L. Lauther after her own father was killed and she toured with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition. She was educated and articulate, and sang and danced in her exhibit. Percilla fell in love with another sideshow exhibit named Emmitt Bejano, who suffered from ichthyosis and was billed as the Alligator-Skinned Man. The two married in 1938 and remained madly in love until Emmitt's death in 1995. They were billed as "The World's Strangest Married Couple" when they toured with Ringling Brothers. Percilla and Emmitt appeared in the 1980 film Carny. Percilla was introduced to a new generation of admirers when she appeared clean shaven on The Jerry Springer Show in 1997. Percilla passed away in 2001 at age 89.

The Ramos Gomez Brothers

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Larry and Danny Ramos Gomez are brothers born in Mexico, both with hypertrichosis. They were exhibited in a sideshow from infancy. They later joined a circus and learned to perform as magicians, acrobats, and trapeze artists. Their siblings and about 20 members of the extended family are affected by hypertrichosis. Danny's daughter is affected, but Larry's son is not. A production company is working on a reality TV show featuring Larry Ramos Gomez, who is divorced, in which he will look for a new love.
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Times have changed, although there is still no cure for hypertrichosis. Pruthviraj Patil of India and Supatra Sasuphan of Thailand are accepted by their peers despite their hairy appearance, and hope to live normal lives with everyday occupations. Other stories of hairy people include Barbara Urslerin, Shwe-Maong of Burma, and Alice Dougherty the Minnesota Wooly Baby, among others.

See also: Coney Island Freaks of Yesterday and Today

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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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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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