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5 Celebrities Who've Undergone Coronary Bypass Surgery

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News of Burt Reynolds' recent quintuple bypass surgery reminded me of when my Dad had the same operation back in 1997 at the ripe old age of 73. His age plus the dangers of anesthesia plus such a blocked-up ticker prompted the cardiologist to prepare us for the worst, but thanks to a combination of modern medicine and Dad's upbeat attitude when it comes to hospital stays (it's better than a hotel because pretty young girls give him sponge baths!) he's still going strong 13 years later. Here are a few other famous folks who owe their lives to just-in-time heart surgery.

1. David Letterman

The then-52-year-old Late Show host had a history of high cholesterol, and his father had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 57, so he knew deep down that he was at risk for heart disease. In early 2000, Dave's doctor saw something iffy during his stress test and scheduled Letterman for an angiogram. During the January 14, 2000, broadcast Dave's fear was palpable as he discussed the procedure with guest Regis Philbin (who'd undergone an angioplasty a few years back). Not only did he dread the procedure "“ which involved inserting a needle into the groin "very close to your deal" to inject dye "“ but he (like most folks) didn't like the idea of his rib cage being cracked open if the angio results were bad news. David viewed the films at 8:00AM with his cardiologist, saw the severe blockage in his left main artery, and phoned his executive producer at 8:30 to let him know that he wouldn't be reporting for work that day; he was undergoing quintuple bypass surgery. Five weeks later Dave was back on the job with his rib cage wired shut and veins from his legs grafted into his coronary arteries.

2. James Garner

Oh dear, talk about your bad timing"¦shortly after Rockford Files star James Garner was tapped to be a spokesperson for the beef industry, he was rushed to Cedars-Sinai hospital for emergency quintuple bypass surgery.

Garner survived, but the Beef Council was forced to rethink its advertising strategy since the actor's heart blockage only reinforced the "red meat equals cholesterol" climate of the late 1980s. Garner's eschewing of vegetables in the spot just provided more fodder for late-night TV monologues.

3. Bill Clinton

While he was president, Bill Clinton squeezed in a daily jog whenever his schedule allowed. However, he earned a lot of snarky press (and a Saturday Night Live skit) when alert paparazzi shot pictures of him jogging into a McDonald's. The truth was out "“ the Commander-in-Chief had a weakness for Big Macs. Growing up as a good ol' Southern boy, it's safe to bet that he also gorged on less-than-healthy (but nevertheless delicious) meals of fried catfish, chicken-fried steak, fried okra, and greens cooked with bacon fat as a youth. In 2004 the former president could no longer ignore the chest pains and shortness of breath he'd been experiencing after a minimal amount of exertion. Medical tests revealed severe blockage in four of his coronary arteries, and bypass surgery was performed. All was well until February 2010, when Clinton experienced serious chest pain and ultimately received two stents to open up arteries that had become 90% blocked. Many pundits immediately accused Clinton of falling off the heart-smart menu wagon, but experts have since pointed out that genetics play almost as large a role in heart disease as diet. Some folks are just predisposed to plaque-filled arteries.

4. Rue McClanahan

One of the two surviving Golden Girls went in for a routine physical in November 2009. An irregular EKG led to further tests, which led to the operating room for emergency bypass surgery. The 75-year-old actress had been scheduled to be the guest of honor at "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" at San Francisco's Castro Theatre just one week after her unexpected surgery and was forced to beg off, stating: "My darlings, I'm just devastated that I'm going to have to miss my own tribute. Unfortunately, my doctor has laid down the law and I'm currently having some maintenance on the old ticker." All looked well for Rue until January 2010, when McClanahan suffered what her reps described as a "minor" stroke (a not all that uncommon occurrence for older folks after undergoing major surgery).

Maybe it's not exactly foreshadowing, but you can watch a clip of Rue as Blanche Devereaux after having a pacemaker implanted.

5. Regis Philbin

time-for-regisRemember what I said earlier about cholesterol and genetics? TV host Regis Philbin underwent his first angioplasty back in 1993 to clear out some clogged heart arteries. The experience, he said at the time, scared him and he began an exercise regime and paid close attention to his diet. Nevertheless in 2000 he had a second angioplasty, and in 2007 he started experiencing those same ol' symptoms "“ chest pains and shortness of breath. He told his Live with Regis and Kelly audience: "Darn it, I don't want to do it. Nobody wants to do it, I guess. But they tell me. And I had a second opinion, I did all those things [tests for heart disease], and so they're [the doctors] all in agreement that it should be the bypass." Surgeons unclogged three of Philbin's arterial arteries and he was back on the job five weeks later.

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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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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]

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