CLOSE
Original image

The Quick 10: Weird Celebrity Phobias

Original image

Everyone has their weird phobias. Me, I hate clowns and people wearing costumes or masks that cover their faces (which is weird, considering how much I love Disney World). But compared to these 10 celebrity phobias, my fears are pretty normal.

bobchair1. Billy Bob Thornton hates antiques so much he refuses to stay in a room with furniture from before 1950. This might be a rare phobia, but he's not alone "“ more than 250,000 people in the U.S. alone apparently suffer from this fear of antiques. "I've had friends tell me that maybe I was beaten to death with an antique chair in a former life," Thornton has mused. Hmm.


2. Of all of the things that could traumatize Alfred Hitchcock "“ you know, showers, birds, mama's boys - one of the things he hated most were eggs, specifically runny ones. You know what's weird? My mom shares Hitchcock's birthday (not birth year, mind you) and she also loathes eggs. Even cracking one into a cake mix can make her gag, and don't even ask her to make you over easy eggs.

3. Christina Ricci cannot stand to be around house plants, which would be known as a form of botanophobia. She finds them dirty and shudders at the idea of watering one. "If I have to touch one, after already being repulsed by the fact that there is a plant indoors, then it just freaks me out." I guess if a guy sends her flowers after a date, there won't be a second one. Or maybe flowers are different? Do we have any botanophobics out there that can clarify?

4. Tyra Banks won't be swimming with Flipper's cousin at Sea World anytime soon "“ she says she's been scared of the intelligent swimmers since she was about eight years old. "I have dreams that I am in a pool and there are dolphins bumping me and I'm frightened," she has said.

If you're really interested, here's a video of Tyra bravely facing her nemesis for her talk show.

5. Megan Fox hates paper. I imagine this must make it very hard to read scripts, but what do I know? Technically, she clarifies that this isn't a phobia "“it's more like people who get the chills when they hear fingernails on a chalkboard. She says that sometimes she even has to have a cup of water nearby so she can thoroughly wet her finger before turning a page if she's doing a lot of reading at once. So, War and Peace is probably out?

6. Do you guys remember Frankie from The Real World: San Diego? If you do, you probably remember her for her battle with cystic fibrosis (which she sadly lost in 2007) and not for her strange phobia: big boats. Really. The cameras were rolling on the roommates just standing around chatting when Frankie bolted for the bathroom, white as a ghost and thisclose to throwing up. Why? Because someone said "cruise ship."

7. Matthew McConaughey is scared of revolving doors. And maybe also personal hygiene, because he says he hasn't worn deodorant in 20 years. He claims he feels anxious about even getting near revolving doors, and he's also scared of tunnels. While actually being in a tunnel doesn't bother him, the point where you have to go underground to enter the tunnel does.

kidfly8. Nicole Kidman is what is known as a lepidopterophobe "“ a person who is terrified of butterflies. "It's so bizarre," she told In Style magazine, "I'm not scared of snakes or spiders." She said she once tried to overcome her fear of the colorful little guys by making herself go through the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, but just couldn't make it through. As a little girl, she couldn't even go in her yard when she got home from school if there was a butterfly sitting on the gate.

9. Childhood sure can mess a person up. "My grandmother used to save it [used gum] in little rows in the cabinet," Oprah once said. "I'd be scared to touch it because it was so gross, so I have a thing about gum. One guest in my home sat at the dinner table, took out some gum from her mouth and put it on her plate — after she left, I threw the plate out."

10. What does Madonna have in common with a dog? I'm sure there are lots of hilarious answers to that, actually, but the answer I have in mind is that they're both afraid of thunder.

I think a fear of clowns is somewhat common, so I didn't include Johnny Depp's phobia, but I have to say that his thoughts on why he hates them sum up my own opinions pretty nicely: "There's something about the painted face and the fake smile. There seems to be a darkness lurking under the surface, a potential for real evil".

Are you irrationally afraid of anything? I bet you're not the only one. Share your unusual phobia in the comments!

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image
iStock

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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES