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From Petey P. Cup to Prosty the Spokesgland: 11 Unbelievable Healthcare Industry Mascots

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If pancake syrup, batteries and crescent rolls can have corporate mascots, why shouldn’t urinalysis and Manograms? That’s what these 11 health-related causes figured when they created their very specific spokesthings.

1. Petey P. Cup

We’ve mentioned Petey P. Cup before, but his particular brand of awesome is worth another visit. Petey is a larger-than-life specimen jar containing a particularly yellow specimen that makes me wonder about Petey’s hydration levels. He’s the official spokescup of HealthPartners.com, a Minnesota nonprofit.

2. Pokey the Syringe

Like Gumby, Petey P. Cup has a buddy named Pokey. Unlike Gumby’s pal, though, this Pokey is a syringe big enough to inoculate Paul Bunyan. Pokey’s mission is to spread the word about immunizations and hypodermic history.

3. Captain Cutaneum

A child without sunscreen? This looks like a job for...Captain Cutaneum!! The good captain was created by an Arizona dermatologist who wanted to teach kids about sun safety before they decide that being tan is attractive. As is befitting for a sun safety spokesman, Captain Cutaneum is covered from head to toe and wears a giant blue hat, even when he’s fighting off evil villains like Lentigo and Melanoma.

4. Morgan D'Organ

Though he bears more than a passing resemblance to a wad of chewed gum, Morgan D’Organ is actually an ambiguous organ who reps for Donate Life Illinois. Morgan’s interests include pinkness, registration drives, hugs, and “turning looks of confusion into smiles.”

5. Dottie Donor Dot

Organ donation is a tough cause to mascot since there’s not one specific, tangible thing to use as a character. That’s why organ donation organizations have had to get creative. Dottie Donor Dot may look like 7up’s Cool Spot from the 1980s, but she’s really a big, anthropomorphized version of the orange dot Wisconsinites receive on their driver’s licenses when they agree to be an organ donor.

6 & 7. Mr. Testicles and Near Naked Man

Male-specific cancer doesn’t get as much ink (or funding) as predominantly female illnesses such as breast cancer. The Male Cancer Awareness Campaign is working to change that with their Mr. Testicles character. Not only does he exist, he’s a distance runner - Mr. Testicles completed the London Marathon last year. The website is equally hairy, just in case you’re curious.

Creating irreverent characters to address very serious subjects is something of a specialty for the MCAC, because they’re also the organization behind Near Naked Man, a masked man in a flesh-colored suit complete with a massive carpet of chest hair and a privacy fig leaf. NNM’s objective? To make men realize that talking to a doctor about bodily functions isn’t embarrassing - it’s potentially life saving. Those are a couple of Near Naked Men above with Mr. Testicles representing MCAC at the Houses of Parliament in 2010.

8. Billy the Kidney

I have to wonder how Billy the Kid would feel about his organ counterpart, Billy the Kidney. The Indiana branch of the National Kidney Foundation created this clever character for use at health fairs, walks, and even birthday parties. People interested in promoting the kidney cause can rent out the costume as long as they’re at least 13 years old and promise not to talk or run while wearing the costume.

9. Prosty the Spokesgland

All together now: Prosty the Spokesgland is a prostate gland, we’re told. Buried deep inside largely out of sight, he’s ignored by young and old. C’mon, if you know the lyrics, sing along! Prosty is a gland with anger management issues due to the fact that no one pays any attention to him. Created by the AdMeTech Foundation, Prosty is an advocate for the development of the “Manogram” - imaging technology that can help detect prostate cancer early.

10. Captain Glucose

In case you were wondering, yes — Captain Glucose is played by Bill Kirchenbauer, the dad from Just the Ten of Us.

It's hard to make it seem like stabbing yourself in the finger several times a day is fun, but Captain Glucose and Meter Boy are doing their best. Captain Glucose has Type 2 diabetes while Meter Boy suffers from Type 1. With a little assistance from D-Girl, they battle a Batman-esque bad guy named the Blood Sugar Maniac - when they’re not honing their stand-up routines, that is:

11. Mr. Hankey (?)

If one rectal cancer victim has her way, South Park’s own Mr. Hankey will soon be the proud mascot of the disease. Michelle Dobrawsky was diagnosed with rectal cancer last year and quickly realized that no one was wearing perky pink ribbons for her cause. Dobrawsky decided that Mr. Hankey, South Park’s famous talking Christmas turd, would be the perfect spokespoo for the cause. Her hilarious open letter to the series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker appears to have gone unanswered for now.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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