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13 Medical Conditions Named After People

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Having a disease named after you is a decidedly mixed bag. On the one hand, your scientific developments are forever commemorated. On the other hand, though, you're stuck with the knowledge that no patient will ever be happy upon hearing your name. Who are the scientists and doctors behind some of our most famous diseases and conditions, though? Here are a few of the physicians and their eponymous ailments.

1. Crohn's disease

The inflammatory digestive disease could just have easily ended up with the name Ginzburg's disease or Oppenheimer's disease. In 1932, three New York physicians named Burrill Bernard Crohn, Leon Ginzburg, and Gordon Oppenheimer published a paper describing a new sort of intestinal inflammation. Since Crohn's name was listed first alphabetically, the condition ended up bearing his name.

2. Salmonellosis

Yes, the salmonella menace that haunts undercooked chicken is named after a person. Daniel Elmer Salmon was a veterinary pathologist who ran a USDA microorganism research program during the late 19th century. Although Salmon didn't actually discover the type of bacterium that now bears his name—famed epidemiologist Theobald Smith isolated the bacteria in 1885—he ran the research program in which the discovery occurred. Smith and his colleagues named the bacteria salmonella in honor of their boss.

3. Parkinson's disease

James Parkinson was a busy fellow. While the English apothecary had a booming medical business, he also dabbled in geology, paleontology, and politics; Parkinson even published a three-volume scientific study of fossils. Following a late-18th-century foray into British politics where he advocated a number of social causes and found himself briefly ensnared in an alleged plot to assassinate King George III, Parkinson turned his attention to medicine. Parkinson did some research on gout and peritonitis, but it was his landmark 1817 study "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy" that affixed his name to Parkinson's disease.

4. Huntington's disease

George Huntington wasn't the most prolific researcher, but he made his papers count. In 1872, a fresh-out-of-med-school Huntington published one of two research papers he would write in his life. In the paper, Huntington described the effects of the neurodegenerative disorder that now bears his name after examining several generations of family that all suffered from the genetic condition.

5. Alzheimer's disease

In 1901, German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer began observing an odd patient at a Frankfurt asylum. The 51-year-old woman, Mrs. Auguste Deter, had no short-term memory and behaved strangely. When Mrs. Deter died in 1906, Alzheimer began to dissect the patient's brain, and he presented his findings that November in what was the first formal description of presenile dementia.

6. Tourette syndrome

Credit George Gilles de la Tourette for his modesty. When the French neurologist first described the illness that now bears his name in 1884, he didn't name it after himself. Instead, he referred to the condition as "maladie des tics." Tourette's mentor and contemporary Jean-Martin Charcot renamed the illness after Tourette.

Tourette didn't have such great luck with patients, though. In 1893, a deluded former patient shot the doctor in the head. The woman claimed that she lost her sanity after Tourette hypnotized her. Tourette survived the attack.

7. Hodgkin's lymphoma

British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin first described the cancer that now bears his name while working at Guy's Hospital in London in 1832. Hodgkin published the study "On Some Morbid Appearances of the Absorbent Glands and Spleen" that year, but the condition didn't bear his name until a fellow physician, Samuel Wilks, rediscovered Hodgkin's work.

8. Bright's disease

The kidney disease bears the name of Richard Bright, an English physician and colleague of Hodgkin's at Guy's Hospital. Bright began looking into the causes of kidney trouble during the 1820s, and in 1827 he described an array of kidney ailments that eventually became known as Bright's disease. Today, doctors understand many of the symptoms historically clumped together as Bright's disease are in fact different maladies, so the term is rarely used.

9. Addison's disease

Guy's Hospital was apparently the place to work in the 19th century if you wanted to have a disease named after you. Thomas Addison, a colleague of Bright and Hodgkin at Guy's Hospital, first described the adrenal disorder we call Addison's disease in 1855. On top of this discovery, Addison also published an early study of appendicitis.

10. Tay-Sachs disease

Although both of their names are attached to this genetic disorder, Warren Tay and Bernard Sachs didn't work together. In fact, they didn't even work in the same country. Tay, a British opthalmologist, first described the disease's characteristic red spot on the retina in 1881. In 1887 Bernard Sachs, a colleague of Burrill Crohn at Mount Sinai Hospital, described the cellular effects of the disease and its prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews.

11. Turner syndrome

The chromosomal disorder got its name from Oklahoma doctor Henry Turner, who first described the condition in 1938.

12. Klinefelter's syndrome

The genetic condition in which males have an extra X chromosome bears the name of Harry Klinefelter, a young Boston endocrinologist who published a landmark study while working under the tutelage of endocrinology star Dr. Fuller Albright in 1942. Albright pushed his young protégé to be the lead author of the paper that described the condition, so the young Klinefelter's name is forever associated with the syndrome.

13. Asperger's syndrome

Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger first described the syndrome that now bears his name in 1944 after observing a group of children who suffered from what Asperger described as "autistic psychopathy." (He called his patients "Little Professors.") Interestingly, since Asperger's research was all written in German, his contributions to the literature went unrecognized until much later. The term "Asperger's syndrome" didn't come into widespread usage until 1981. Today it's classified as an autism spectrum disorder.

This story originally appeared in 2009.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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