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15 Songs That Brought People Out of Comas

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Do your friends and family know your favorite tunes? It's more than just a quiz to see who knows you best—someday, it could save your life. Doctors often recommend that people visiting coma victims play music that has special meaning to them. This is known as a "salient stimulus," something that is familiar and emotionally important. Stimuli like these are so powerful they can even rouse coma victims from their deep slumbers. Here are 15 songs that have done the trick.

1. The Song: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”

The Story: In 2011, 7-year-old Charlotte Neve had a rare brain hemorrhage that resulted in a coma doctors said she might not come out of. Charlotte’s mom was preparing for the worst when the 2012 Grammy “Song of the Year” came on the radio while she was visiting her daughter. Since it was a song that both mother and daughter enjoyed, Charlotte’s mom began singing along. To her amazement, Charlotte smiled. It was the first reaction she had had to anything since falling into the coma. Two days later, she was talking and getting out of bed.

2. The Song: James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”

The Story: Five-year-old Claudia Dealwis’ parents were devastated when she fell off of a friend’s balcony, fracturing her skull and falling into a coma. She had been in the coma for 10 days with no signs of improvement when “You’re Beautiful,” one of Claudia’s favorite songs, came on over the hospital radio. "When it came on the hospital radio we could just see her starting to move a bit and we knew she was beginning to wake up,” her father said. "When she opened her eyes and acknowledged us we were so relieved. Every little movement was like a massive step."

3. The Song: The Mack & Mabel soundtrack

The Story: John Flynn, a London-based marketing executive, had three heart bypass operations in less than 24 hours in 2012. Shortly thereafter, he fell into a coma as a result of severe internal bleeding. He had been unresponsive for six days—until one of his sons started playing music for his father from his iPod. When they settled on Mack & Mabel, a musical about old Hollywood, Flynn started “tap dancing on the end of the bed.”

Flynn, who happens to invest in West End productions, later received the opportunity to invest in the off-West End “Mack & Mabel.” While he doesn’t usually put money into off-West End shows, he made an exception this time.

4. The Song: Green Day’s “American Idiot”

The Story: In 2005, Corey George was a huge Green Day. (Join the club, buddy.) He was hit by a car on his ninth birthday and was unconscious for two weeks afterward, clinging to life via a life support machine. Then his mother got the idea to play him his favorite album—American Idiot. Corey had opened his eyes and was wiggling his fingers and toes less than an hour later.

5. The Song: The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”

The Story: In 2009, Jarrett Carland spent four months in a coma after being in a car accident that claimed the life of his best friend and seriously injured another. Doctors didn’t expect him to live—and said that if he did, he would likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. To try to bring him out of it, his parents played the song that Carland almost obsessively listened to: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” It took many repetitions, but eventually, Carland responded. Nearly a year later, he got to thank Charlie Daniels in person.

6. The Song: Robin Gibb’s “Don’t Cry Alone”

The Story: In 2012, the Bee Gees' Robin Gibb caught pneumonia. Because his immune system was weak from battles with liver cancer and colon cancer, as well as chemotherapy, Gibb fell into a coma. He later cried when his wife played him Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” and fully revived when his son, Robin-John, played him “Don’t Cry Alone,” a classical piece commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Robin and Robin-John had collaborated on the piece together.

7. The Song: The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

The Story: Do you remember the first single you ever bought? If it meant a lot to you, it could just bring you back from the brink someday. Sam Carter was just 17 when the song was released in 1965; he was 60 when it brought him out of a coma. Despite having just over a zero percent chance of survival, Carter says that when he heard the song come on over headphones his wife had provided, "I could remember how excited I was to get it down at the record shop. I suddenly had a burst of energy and knew I had a lot more life left in me and that's when I woke up—to the sound of the first song I ever bought."

8. The Song: Robbie Williams’ “Angels”

The Story: You might remember the horrifying story of Austrian Kerstin Fritzl. She was in the news several years ago when it was discovered that she had been living in a basement cellar with her mother/sister. Yeah, not mother and sister. Her father/grandfather, Josef Fritzl, had imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth underground for 24 years, raped her repeatedly and fathered seven children with her, including Kerstin. When Kerstin fell ill in April 2008, Elisabeth convinced her father that Kerstin needed to go to the hospital. She was later successfully revived from a medically-induced coma with Robbie Williams songs, which she is believed to have listened to while in the cellar.

Kerstin’s trip to the hospital exposed her father/grandfather’s horrible dungeon, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

9. The Song: Something Bryan Adams

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The Story: Christiane Kittel had been in a coma for seven years—seven years—after getting a blood clot in her lung at the age of 16. In 2007, her mother heard that Bryan Adams was touring near their town and got permission from Christiane’s doctor to take her, thinking that his music might somehow reach her Adams-obsessed daughter. She was definitely right: During the concert, Christiane started moving in her wheelchair, opened her eyes and called for her mother.

10. The Song: Jessie J’s “Rainbow”

The Story: A 6-year-old girl named Tyla had to be put in a medically-induced coma after getting into a car accident with her mother and grandmother. Eight days later, Tyla’s mother heard that singer Jessie J was visiting the hospital the girl was in—and Jessie J just happened to be her daughter’s favorite singer. She contacted the star’s management team, and minutes later, Jessie stopped by to sing Tyla’s favorite song, “Rainbow.” Just a few hours later, Tyla regained consciousness.

11. The Song: Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”

The Story: David Hassall was involved in a head-on collision with a tree that landed him in a coma—until his parents decided to crank some Bon Jovi for their then-22-year-old son. Much to her amazement, David’s mother realized that he was mouthing the words to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” He ended up making a full recovery.

12. The Song: "Dynamo" by Si Cranstoun

The Story: Cheryl Horton-Powell's heart stopped for 10 minutes after suffering from cardiac arrest in 2013. She was put into a medically-induced coma when she arrived at the hospitaL via ambulance; doctors warned her children that her chances of survival were just 50/50. In an attempt to get through, her family placed a pair of headphones on her and played one of her favorite songs. Soon afterward, Horton-Powell was tapping her feet to the music. "I was brought up with rockabilly music and that is what I've always loved, so I think it sparked something in my brain from childhood," she later said.

13: The Song: Gangnam Style by Psy

The Story: After her daughter had spent 258 days in a coma caused by a brain hemorrhage, Ying Nan's mother remembered a funny little song her daughter had enjoyed. She started humming 'Horse Riding Dance,' as the Psy hit is apparently known as in China, and heard her daughter laugh. She tried again the next day and got the same reaction. Ying is in rehabilitation today and has learned to speak and walk again.

14. The Song: "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers

The Story: Another victim of brain hemorrhage, a British woman named Maria Neal had been in a coma for months with very few signs of life when her husband wondered if their wedding song might trigger something. His instinct was correct. "When I actually got a response and I asked her, 'Do you know what this is?' and she nodded yes, it was absolutely fantastic," her husband said.

15. The Song: "Just the Way You Are" by Bruno Mars

The Story: Meeting Bruno Mars before his concert last year was extra special to 11-year-old Zumyah Thorpe. Thorpe survived a car crash that killed her pregnant mother and two sisters, but suffered a severe injury that kept her in a coma. Nurses played her Bruno Mars songs every night, and when Thorpe finally woke up, the first words she could utter were the lyrics to Mars' "Just the Way You Are." 

Mars serenaded Thorpe with the song when he played Cleveland in 2014, as shown in the video above (have some Kleenex ready before you hit play).

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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