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31 Bizarre Medical Conditions That Sound Made Up

Here's one for the hypochondriacs! This week John Green discusses 31 strange medical conditions. 

(You can ubscribe to our YouTube Channel here. All images courtesy of Shutterstock; this transcript is provided by Nerdfighteria Wiki.)

Hi, i'm John Green. Welcome to my salon. This is mental_floss

1. I'm so glad I don't have intermittent explosive disorder, a condition marked by random fits of disproportionate rage. I'M SO ANGRY! DAAAAAAAH! 

Anyway, that's just one of thirty-one fascinating disorders we're going to learn about today here on mental_floss

2. To people who suffer from Alice in Wonderland syndrome, other people can look like they've consumed "Eat Me" cakes or "Drink Me" potions. This distortion, caused by a rare kind of migraine, can last for weeks or merely seconds. Mark, is Donald Duck syndrome that disease where your have the dreams about going to school with no pants on? Because if not, they are really missing a naming opportunity there. 

3. Are you an elderly woman who's sick of having a recently-retired husband underfoot? Probably not, judging by our demographics. But if you are, you might have the aptly named retired husband syndrome, which can actually cause physical ailments, like stomach ulcers and rashes. 

4. Studies show that Japanese people are most susceptible to Paris syndrome, the psychiatric breakdown that occurs when the city of Paris, France doesn't live up to the romantic ideal you've envisioned. Thankfully, the Japanese embassy has a 24-hour hot line for citizens suffering from culture shock. Really. 

5. Truman Show delusion is marked by a patient's belief that he or she is the star of an imaginary reality show. The camera's real, right?

6. It's possible that George Costanza was a victim of Genital Retraction Syndrome or "Koro," a condition that causes people to believe their genitals are shrinking, disappearing, or have been stolen entirely. Strangely, Koro is occasionally an epidemic. 

7. And while we're talking about Seinfeld, let us not overlook the time Kramer had seizures upon hearing the voice of entertainment reporter Mary Hart. This was based on an actual incident in which a woman had epileptic seizures due to the specific pitch and quality of the tone of Mary Hart's voice. 

8. Last Seinfeld reference, I swear. On the rare occasion that people laugh so hard they faint, they're said to have something called laugh syncope. So when a 62 year-old man passed out into his mashed potatoes because he was laughing so hard at a certain show about nothing, doctors dubbed it "Seinfeld syncope." 

9. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair—don't eat it! You've probably heard of something called trichophagia where people are compelled to eat their hair. The thing is, hair isn't digestible, so over time it accumulates into a giant mass that can wrap around and perforate the internal organs, which is called Rapunzel syndrome. 

10. Ever walk into a room and immediately forget why you're there? It could be busy life syndrome, which is essentially just information overload. Researchers blame constant stimulation from cell phones, the internet, social media—I'm sorry. That's my fault. 

11., 12., and 13. Now onto coprographia, coprolalia, and copropraxia. Respectively, those mean making rude drawings or writings, using profane words, and making obscene gestures, all involuntarily. You know, like Jonah Hill in that Super Bad flashback. 

14. Does your strawberry ice cream taste like vanilla? You might have dysgeusia, a disorder that distorts the sense of taste. Or they might have put the red food coloring in the wrong ice cream. 

15. Often associated with dysgeusia is burning mouth syndrome. Nearly 1.3 million Americans suffer from it, so right now one of you is probably feeling like you just got hot pizza cheese plastered to the roof of your mouth, even if you haven't eaten recently. 

16. Pizza probably wouldn't be at the top of the list for someone with gourmand syndrome. Thought to be caused by an injury to the right frontal lobe of the brain, G.S. results in a preoccupation with food and a preference for fine eating. My syndrome does involve preoccupation with food, but it's the opposite, it's really low-quality food. I don't know what that's called, it's probably America syndrome. 

17. People suffering from Dr. Strangelove Syndrome often think that they're Peter Sellers. No, Dr. Strangelove syndrome is actually known as alien hand syndrome, where one hand appears to be controlled by someone other than the person it's attached to, even going so far as to injure the person. Alien hand syndrome is also the subject of a terrible 1999 Devon Sawa/Seth Green movie, who, by the way, is not related to me. 

18. Inserting nonsense words for real words without even realizing it is the result of jargon aphasia. It can actually progress to the point where someone suffering from the condition is talking in an entirely made-up language. 

19. In other news of diseases that would be injurious to my career, walking corpse syndrome. Those with walking corpse syndrome, or Cotard's delusion, think that they are dead or rotting, have possibly lost all of their blood or internal organs, or believe that they never actually existed in the first place. 

20. Capgras delusion is when you believe that a loved one has been replace by an identical imposter. Mmm good try, Mark, but I-I don't love him. I'm just kidding, Hank. If you're Hank. 

21. The flip side of Capgras Delusion is Fregoli delusion, which causes people to believe that many different people are actually just a single person who is skilled in the art of disguise. The first case was reported in 1927 when a woman believe that two local stage actors were constantly following her pretending to be people she knew. 

22. Okay, so here's a thing that exists: purple urine bag syndrome, a.k.a. P.U.B.S. Occasionally, nursing homes report that elderly patients who have been catheterized are producing bags filled with purple pee. It appears to be a harmless condition that is likely caused by certain enzymes mixing with tryptophan, the same stuff in turkey that's supposed to make you sleepy. Slightly off topic, but do you think California raisins pee purple? 

23. If you wake up one morning with an accent you have no right to have (Madonna), it's possible that you're the victim of foreign accent syndrome. Doctors believe it happens when a tiny area of the brain that controls language gets damaged by a stroke or other brain injury. 

24. And now on to exploding head syndrome. Mark, come on. Alright, that's better. People with exploding head syndrome hear loud noises that don't exist, most often waking them up in the middle of the night. The noises have been described as everything from a bomb exploding to cymbals crashing. 

25. People who have little to no awareness of time have dyschronometria. This applies to people who can't even approximate when 30 seconds have gone by, not your brother who is constantly late to everything. 

26. Just like The Beatles and Justin Bieber, pianist Franz Liszt had crazed fans, but back in the 1800s the word "mania" had real, medical connotations, so the fact that doctors named the phenomenon "Lisztomania" indicates that it had physical symptoms including fainting and hysteria. Although to be fair, I would likely faint in the presence of the Biebs. 

27. Now onto trimethylaminuria. We're just going to call it fish odor syndrome. It's a metabolic disorder that makes you smell like day-old fish, and there is no known cure or treatment, so that sucks. 

28. Smelling odors that aren't really there, that's phantosmia. 

29. Smelling something rotten when something should smell pleasant, that's parosmia. 

30. And not smelling anything at all, that's anosmia. 

31. And lastly we return to the portrait gallery to discuss Stendhal syndrome. Does seeing that baby octopus thing make your heart race? Does it make you feel faint? Then you might have Stendhal syndrome. Such people might feel dizzy or faint when in the presence of art they find particularly beautiful or a lot of art. 

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
Original image
Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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