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22 Odd Ads From National Geographic Magazine in the 1910s

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National Geographic/Cover Browser

National Geographic has been transporting its readers to the most distant corners of the world since 1888. From the start, its pages have been home to some far-out advertisements. If you think the products advertised today are dangerous or wacky, check out what they were peddling in the 1910s.

1. November 1914: Glastenbury Health Underwear

Looking to quell your rheumatoid arthritis and that pesky cough? Get the underwear shown in the ad above (it's guaranteed not to shrink!)

2. November 1914: "The Cure"

Most toxic one liner: “This water is highly Radioactive, which adds to its medicinal properties.”

3. October 1916: Quaker Oats Puffed Rice

Biggest Twist: “Each bubble of wheat is a kernel, puffed to eight times normal size. All its thin, airy flakiness is due to steam explosions. And each has been shot from guns. 100 Million Explosions.”

4. April 1917: American Chain Company

Imagine what the roads would be like if we still used ad space to chastise bad drivers. 

5. May 1917: Monroe Refrigerators

We’re inundated with bills. But imagine getting a letter each month charging you for ice. 

6. May 1917: Johns-Manville Asbestos Roofing

Whoops.

7. June 1917: Parker Fountain Pens

Most likely to be a terrible gift idea today: “What can be more appropriate as an expression of the Christmas spirit than a Parker Lucky Curve Fountain Pen?”

8. June 1917: Pyrene

Saves lives? Not so much. Pyrene was later discovered to cause kidney disease, tumors, and liver problems.

9. June 1917: Beeman’s Chewing Gum

Paraphrased: “My chewing gum relieves indigestion. (Actually, I’m not sure if it relieves indigestion at all, but people say it does, so I’ll go along with it.) Buy today!”

10. August 1917: The Si-Wel-Clo Silent Toilet

They say it’s silent. No word on whether it’s deadly. 

11. September 1917: Portland Cement

Whoever said “concrete roads are permanent” must’ve never driven on a concrete road.

12. September 1917: Ithaca Gun Company

Composer John Philip Sousa, who wrote the march “Stars and Stripes Forever,” was like an olde tyme Ted Nugent. 

13.  March 1918: Cream of Wheat

As American as baseball, apple pie, and cream of wheat.

14. March 1918: Pacific Northwest Tourist Association

It’s your patriotic duty to hike the Washington mountains.

15. April 1918: Locomobile

Originally a steam-powered vehicle, the locomobile sadly died once the Great Depression hit. 

16. April 1918: Bird Houses

We’re still trying to figure this one out, too. 

17. April 1918: The Prophylactic Toothbrush

Winner of both “Worst Slogan” and “Most Unfortunate Product Name."

18. April 1918: Calox Tooth Powder

Back in the day, toothpaste and tooth powder were in a fierce rivalry. (Not many people must’ve been convinced by the booklet “Why a Tooth Powder is Better Than a Paste.”)

19. May 1918: The Acousticon

The Acousticon: Most likely to sound like a medieval torture device. 

20. June 1918: The EAR Magniophone

The EAR: Most likely to inspire a B-Horror Movie.

21. October 1918: Bissell Carpet Sweeper

Well, it’s true if you go through 50 brooms a year ...

22. October 1918: The Balopticon Projector System

Advertising apparently didn’t keep the Balopticon projector afloat. 

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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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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