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America’s First Private Mental Hospital Is Still Open Today

Two centuries ago, people with mental illnesses were viewed as socially deviant and even possessed. Often incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise cast out, there was little sympathy—let alone medical treatment—for people suffering from depression, mood disorders, or other psychiatric conditions.

But in Pennsylvania, people dealing with mental illness could find help at the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason, or the Friends Hospital, which opened its doors May 15, 1817. Although the name of America’s first private mental hospital wasn’t exactly sensitive (at least by today’s standards), the “friends” part was real—it was a reference to the Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers had a different perspective on people with mental illness. The Quaker religion recognizes what they call the Inner Light—a divine spirit that they believe inhabits every person, sick or well. As a result, people are seen as deserving of dignity no matter what their mental health condition. After all, Quakers themselves knew what it was like to be treated as outcasts: After fleeing England for the sake of religious freedom, they faced persecution from Puritan colonists who saw them as threats to the social order. Only after William Penn founded his own colony—Pennsylvania—in 1681 did Quakers find a place of their own.

But mental illness affected the tight-knit Quaker community in both America and England. In the 1790s, a young Quaker woman named Hannah Mills was placed in a York, England lunatic asylum and died soon after. Appalled by her treatment, her fellow Quakers decided to set up an asylum of their own in York, one that was run on Quaker principles and that would treat people with mental illnesses “as much in the manner of a rational being as the state of his mind will possibly allow," according to an early history of the asylum.

The York Retreat, as it was called, was an inspiration to an American Quaker minister named Thomas Scattergood, who was no stranger to depression. He decided to call for a similar institution in Philadelphia, and in 1813, local Quakers organized the Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason.

Philadelphia already had a lunatic asylum—the country’s first hospital, which cared for the physically sick as well as those suffering from mental illness. But the Pennsylvania Hospital was crowded, and even though it was a pioneer of psychiatric treatment in that it saw mental illness as a disease, mental patients were often treated as curiosities. Visitors could pay money for a glimpse of the “lunaticks” inside, turning both their suffering and their treatment into entertainment.

The new asylum was different. Instead of putting patients on display or dishing out corporal punishment, it offered what Quakers called “moral treatment.” Patients lived in bright, airy rooms and the windows’ iron bars were disguised as wood. Caretakers treated patients as calmly and respectfully as possible and practiced early forms of talk and occupational therapy. Patients helped run the farm and participated in leisure activities. The hospital’s mission statement focused on both body and mind, pledging to provide patients the “requisite medical aid, [and] such tender, sympathetic attention as may soothe their agitated minds, and under the Divine Blessing, facilitate their recovery.”

Its philosophies were ahead of its time, but the hospital’s practices also reflected the medical beliefs of its era. Freezing shower baths, “blisters” designed to swell the skin and distract patients, and bleeding—common treatments for physical ailments among patients without mental illness—were used at the hospital, too [PDF]. But by treating its patients as humans, not inmates, the hospital set a new standard for psychiatric care.

As the years passed, the hospital began to admit non-Quaker patients and even incorporated pet therapy and a gym. Today, the hospital treats adolescents, adults, and seniors and includes a long-term residential program designed to give patients access to permanent housing and psychiatric resources without confining them to the hospital.

The hospital now admits over 5000 patients per year. It’s dropped its old-fashioned name, but it’s still run by Quakers, and the stately Scattergood Hall—a National Historic Landmark—is the first thing new patients see as they’re welcomed to the hospital. The hospital’s 1813 mission statement is still in effect, too. The definition of “tender, sympathetic attention” for people with mental illness may have shifted, but the purpose of America’s first private mental hospital has not.

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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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