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10 Medical Tools You’re Glad Only Exist in Museums

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Phisick

Breathe a sigh of relief that these gadgets are no longer in your M.D.'s arsenal.

1. The Scarificator, 1874


Source

Show your child this the next time he cries over his booster shots. The Mallam Scarificator temporarily vaccinated against smallpox. All you had to do was dip the four blades into the pustules of a person already infected, then flip the lever to stab the blades into a child’s arm. If he didn’t cry, he could choose between the Otto Von Bismarck or Susan B. Anthony Band-Aids.

2. The Miraculous Chair of Palermo, parturition chair, early 18th century.


Science Museum

It’s not a potty-chair—it’s a birthy-chair. The hole is where the midwife reaches up to help the baby come out. Later incarnations of parturition chairs would include sturdy handles for gripping as well as leg rests. The Miraculous Chair of Palermo indulged in no such frippery, but did provide a religious icon for the mother to bang her head against while praying for unconsciousness.

3. Mercury syringe and field dressings, 1545


The History Blog

The saying goes, “One night with Venus gets you a lifetime with Mercury.” Found onboard the sunken Tudor ship the Mary Rose, this mercury syringe was used to treat sailors with syphilis. Guess what part of the body the needle (filled with toxic mercury) was jabbed into? Yep: right up the ole coxswain.

4. Bloodletting Fleam, 1850


Unnaturalist

To use a fleam, the triangle blade would be pressed into the vein, allowing excess blood to drain out of the body until healthful sanguinity had been restored. By the time this particular fleam was made, bloodletting as a cure-all to balance a person’s “humors” was starting to fall out of fashion. Possibly because it kept killing everyone it was done to.

5. The Prepurex Pregnancy Test Kit, 1980


Science Museum

And now for something from more recent history: This early home pregnancy test was a forerunner of the wonderfully simple pee sticks we know today. This test measured the hormone HCG in urine to detect pregnancy. Simple to operate, it required only the use of antiserum, latex, sampling tubes, a mixing plate, two minutes of gentle rocking, and a Masters in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

6. Trepanation Kit, 1771


Wellcome Collection

Sometimes the only way to get an epileptic to stop acting so strange was to drill a hole in his head to let the demons out. Trepanation has been in practice since ancient times, employed to cure everything from migraines to bad moods. Neurosurgeons still use a form of it today, though they call it a craniotomy

7. The Utica Crib, 1840s


The Original Institute

The medical staff at the New York State Lunatic Asylum at Utica found an ingenious solution to the problem of their patients walking, sitting, or moving: The Utica Crib. It would keep especially disagreeable patients restrained, and was often lined with straw for easy clean up. They were mostly abolished from mental hospitals in the early 1900s and replaced with restraints, padded rooms, straitjackets, and lobotomies. Now that co-pay on your Zoloft doesn’t seem so steep, does it?

8. German Spermatorrhoea Ring 1894


Phisick

Angels may not cry when you touch yourself, but you’re going to. Though “spermatorrhoea” technically means involuntary loss of semen, this device wasn’t picky. The male organ was placed inside the inner ring and the teeth were tightened till not quite touching the flaccid and therefore inoffensive member. However, should any engorgement or growth occur, the teeth would bite.

9. Civil War Dental Screw Forceps, 1860s


Phisick

From the website Physick: “A central telescopic screw extends and is held secure with the blades allowing the root to be tapped. Sadly all before the advent of the anesthetic.” Think about that the next time you’re mush-mouthedly complaining about numb cheeks after getting a cavity filled, you pantywaist.

10. Civil War Bone Chain Saw 1860s


Phisick

This peppy little saw could actually save men from war field amputations. It allowed surgeons to wrap the saw around the bone and cut out only the damaged parts, not the whole limb. You’d still likely die of infection, and if you didn’t, the affected body part would be forever stunted, pained, and weakened. Still, ebony handles! Classy.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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