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7 Cures for Hiccups From World Folklore

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Hiccups are no fun, and we’ve been coming up with weird ways to cure them for centuries. You’ve likely heard of several tactics, and maybe even tried them—eating a spoonful of sugar, drinking from the wrong side of the glass, allowing your friends to terrify you. Below are seven folk remedies to add to your repertoire, vouched for by grandmothers the world over.

1. FIGURE OUT WHO MISSES YOU.

In one of the most common superstitions, the annoying spasms are a sign that you’re popular. To cure hiccups, Russians will list off names of people they know—when your hiccups disappear after a specific name, that person misses you. Similar beliefs show up throughout Europe and Asia, although in Hungary, hiccups mean you’re being gossiped about, not missed. In ancient Greece, people were straight-up complaining about you.

2. SING A RELIGIOUS SONG.

The Old English word for hiccup is ælfsogoða—literally “elf hiccup,” because hiccups were believed to be caused by elves. But ancient elves aren’t like those of the Keebler or Middle-Earth varieties; they’re demons, which means you need an exorcism. And not your standard one, either: one 10th-century English remedy tells you to prepare a salve of herbs, draw a cross or two, and sing a religious verse in Latin. English speakers who don’t know Latin are punished with a less pleasant ritual, where you spit on your right forefinger, make a cross on the front of your left shoe, and say the Lord’s Prayer backward. Potentially, the latter may work without the spitting. No promises, though.

3. PUT WET THINGS ON YOUR FOREHEAD.

Filipinos treat hiccups by ripping off a small square of paper towel, wetting it, and applying it (directly!) to the forehead. No paper towels on hand? Try thread … but then you have to wet it with spit. In Latin America, not just any thread will do: make sure it’s red string, which can be reused in future hiccup-related endeavors. A Sinti (a Romani people) cure involves tying a key to the red string, putting it around your neck, and throwing the key over your left shoulder.

4. VISUALIZE A GREEN COW GRAZING IN A BLUE FIELD.

Dr. Muiris Houston tells The Irish Times that the “proper, but hardly ever used, medical term is singultus, from the Latin singult. Roughly translated this means ‘the act of catching one's breath while sobbing.’” According to Houston, a favorite hiccup remedy from the west of Ireland is to visualize a green cow grazing in a blue field.

5. HOLD A PART OF YOUR FACE.

In 16th century Scotland, people suffering from hiccups were told to “hold their chinne with their right hand whiles a gospell is soong.” Meanwhile, Vikings dealing with the same issue were told to grasp their tongue in a handkerchief (make sure it’s clean first), pull the bundle away from their face, and count silently to a hundred.

6. PUT A KNIFE IN YOUR WATER GLASS.

The Norwegian cure for hiccups is, well, really metal: take three sips of water from a glass containing a sharp knife (pointy side down). Oh, and hold your breath. Finns have a gentler approach: skip the breath-holding, swap a spoon for the knife, and throw some sugar in there too. Just make sure to position the spoon so it’s facing away from you.

7. LET SOMEONE ASK YOU UNPREDICTABLE QUESTIONS.

Depending on the question, this could be more frightening than having a friend sneak up behind you. “If you are suddenly asked ‘What is tofu made from?’ while having endless hiccups, you will be taken aback,” claims the website Japan Style. “It is said that hiccups stop when you answer ‘daizu.’” If you can’t find anyone to ask you about tofu, just the word daizu is rumored to have hiccup-curing properties when said aloud. (It means “soybeans.")

Make sure to try this method as soon as your hiccups start, by the way. In Japan, hiccuping 100 consecutive times means you will die.

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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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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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