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11 Things Germier Than Toilet Seats

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People are understandably squeamish about public restrooms. But the same people are probably regularly interacting with surfaces that have far more germs and overall icky-ness than your average public toilet seat. For example...

1. Hotel/Motel Bedspread

Unlike the sheets, hotels and motels do not change or launder the bedspreads on a daily basis. It's actually more of an annual thing. And if you don't think there are various bodily fluids lingering in those coverings, let us remind you that when the bedspread from an internationally ranked five-star hotel was introduced as evidence in boxer Mike Tyson's rape trial, investigators found it coated with the DNA of so many different men that it took some significant time to finally isolate traces of Tyson's contribution.

2. Purse Bottoms

Many women who fear the germs of public toilet seats don't think twice about placing their purses down on the floor of the bathroom stall. Not only that, they also set them on the floor while riding the bus, or while dining at a restaurant, or while dancing at a nightclub, or on the bedspread at a hotel (see above). And then, when they get home, they set that same purse on the kitchen counter or the dining room table while they rifle through the daily mail or check their phone messages.


Nelson Laboratories of Salt Lake City tested a random selection of ladies' purses: those belonging to moms, executive types, and swinging singles. What did they find? Pseudomonas, staphylococcus aurous, salmonella, and e-coli. Many of the handbags had fecal contamination, and those belonging to the women that frequented dance clubs also had traces of vomit. In layman's terms, the pocketbooks were infested with harmful bacteria, the types that can cause all sorts of infections.

3. ATM Keypad

Studies have shown that the various keys on your average ATM serve as a cozy nesting place for Bacillus Cereus, a bacterium that can cause symptoms in humans similar to those of food poisoning. Yet folks casually punch those buttons and then go about their business without a second thought, touching their eye area to assuage an itch or holding the Egg McMuffin that they're munching during their morning commute.

4. Office Telephone

Have you ever used a corporate telephone other than the one on your desk? Who knows what evils lurk on that communal device... other than the 25,127 germs found in a square inch on the average telephone receiver as discovered in a 2004 University of Arizona study. Think about it... the person who used that phone before you might not have the same fastidious hand-washing habits as you, and he/she may have answered a call immediately upon exiting the bathroom...

5. Restaurant Menu

Servers barely have enough time to take an order from table 11 and then rush to tables 14 and 17 to deliver that extra side of Ranch dressing and a round of beverages, respectively. Do we really expect them to wipe down the restaurant's oft-handled menus with anti-bacterial wipes in their "spare" time? The Journal of Medical Virology has reported that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for as long as 18 hours. Think of how many hands have touched that bill of fare before you browsed over it and then immediately used your fingers to transport dinner rolls or breadsticks directly to your mouth.

6. Condiment Containers

Speaking of restaurants and germs living on hard surfaces, how many of you disinfect your hands in between handling the ketchup bottle or salt/pepper shakers and your food?

7. Grocery Carts

So you're afraid to set your naked hindquarters on a toilet seat that is routinely cleaned with bleach-infused products, but you push a grocery cart through your local supermarket bare-handed? The handle of which has been touched by folks who've coughed or sneezed into their hands and have also handled packages of raw meat? And those of you who place items in the fold-out children's seat – does it not occur to you that many a child's diapered bottom has previously occupied that space? A four-year study conducted by the University of Arizona at supermarkets in Tucson, San Francisco, Chicago, and Tampa revealed that shopping buggies were rife with such bacteria and viruses as E. coli, salmonella, and Staphylococcus.

8. Steering Wheel

As mentioned above, public toilet seats are washed on a regular basis, but when is the last time you scrubbed down the steering wheel of your vehicle? During a typical day you might touch things such as a gas pump dispenser, cash from the bank drive-thru window, and your crying child's runny nose in the back seat, and then use those same hands to grip the steering wheel after every transaction without any disinfecting in between. Oh, did I mention that some of us also eat food and apply eye makeup while driving with those same hands that are gripping the germ-laden (mainly with bacillus cereus and arthrobacter) steering wheel?

9. Kitchen Faucet Handle(s)

Dr. Charles Gerba, an environmental biologist at the University of Arizona, once declared that if an alien from another planet landed in an average Earth household, he would determine (after a careful bacterial count) that he should wash his hands in the toilet and use the kitchen sink as a commode. Yep, our kitchen sponges and faucet handles are that contaminated with nasties, mainly because we tend to touch these items many times in the midst of handling raw meat, eggs, and poultry while preparing a meal.

10. Gym Equipment

How many of you who work out regularly at a gym grip the handrails on the treadmill or the handlebars on the stationary bike without a second thought? Or perhaps you grasp a series of different free weights during your strength-building workout. Odds are that at sometime during your workout you'll swipe a sweaty fist across your eyes or scratch an itch some place on your person (an innocent, unconscious activity that might break the skin and unintentionally place a virtual welcome mat inviting infection). You might be interested to know that the nasty "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA), which can survive on non-host surfaces for up to a month, has been found on various gym machines in studies done across the U.S. That's in addition to the sarcinia, candida specie, and staphylococcus epi that was also harvested from the various standard gym apparatus. And don't get us started on what was found on the floors of the showers...

11. Swings and Monkey Bars and Such

OK, this particular hotbed of germs might affect your offspring more than you, but it's certainly worth a mention, especially if you allow your child to munch on snacks while they romp. If your child ever frolics on the monkey bars, jungle gym, swings, ball pit, etc., of a communal play area, then his hands are a virtual Petri dish of disgustingness after each and every play date. Besides the traces of human fecal material found on such equipment in many studies, there is also the fact that kids with runny noses tend to use their hands as handkerchiefs while playing, and various birds in the area use playground equipment as their personal comfort station.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

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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