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Popular Diet Tips from 100 Years Ago

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For the past century or so, the human race has been struggling to undo the millennia of genetic programming that tells us to eat. Eat what you can, take pleasure in your food, for it may be weeks before you stumble across another wounded aurochs. In the early 20th century, concerns about obesity, mostly cosmetic, resulted in the creation of libraries of diet literature. While most advice had the familiar and reasonable refrain of "eat less and exercise," there were occasional divergences into the maniacal that gave weight-loss advice of this era a memorable, frightening charm.

Are you fat?

The first question you must ask yourself is, "Are you fat?" If you are unsure, Mrs. Annette Kellerman, in her 1918 book Physical Beauty, How to Keep it, has devised a number of tests to reveal your condition. Now get naked.

Here are a few tests to determine how much of you is real woman and how much is just plain fat. In the first place stand before your mirror nude and look yourself over…Now bend over in various attitudes. Are there unsightly wrinkles and rolls of loose flesh? Lie down on a bed or couch on your back…With your free hand grasp the loose skin and flesh that lies above these muscles… if you are too fat there will be big rolls of loose flesh above the tightened muscles. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

Also, check for loose busts.

The woman who is too fat will frequently, though not always, have loose busts. She is likely to have excessive hips. Her knees and ankles, instead of being trim and shapely are likely to be soft and puffy. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

If you're still wavering, another method of determination is presented by the anonymous Countess C__, in her 1901 book, Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful. Your general form. Is it human-shaped? Or do you look like someone mated a manatee with a rodeo monkey?

A very thin woman is not beautiful, but she can be graceful even to a remarkable degree; but what shall we say of an old woman, overflowing with fat, no longer possessing a human form, much less the form of a woman, always gasping, sweating, and breaking out into redness at the slightest movement, looking, in short, vulgar, ridiculous, and half-bestial. [Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful]

Still don't know? This last test will cinch it. Ask yourself, does your flesh escape you like filthy secrets hidden in a pudding bag? From The Woman Beautiful, an 1899 work by Helen Follett Jameson:

[The fat woman] gets into clothes that are skin-tight, and she draws in her corset string until it snaps and gives at every breath and sneeze, and even then she does not look graceful and pretty, for the fat — like secrets — will out, and it rolls over and around like the little bumps and humps in a pudding bag. [The Woman Beautiful]

Napping makes you stupid and fat

Oh dear, dear Pudding Bag, how did you let this happen? Of course overeating can lead to obesity. But did you know naps, or even eight hours of sleep a night, can also pack on the pounds? The experts agree.

Mere napping about for those who already have too much rest and luxury is suicidal to both mind and body. Oversleeping at any time makes one stupid and logy, yes — fat. [Physical Beauty, How to Keep it]

Sleep must be limited to seven hours, and daily naps are strictly tabooed. [The Woman Beautiful]

And if you can't force yourself out of bed, get a much less comfortable bed.

If she cannot give up all that gratifies her palate but produces flesh...exchange her soft and downy bed for a harder one and reduce her sleep by two or three hours daily. [Beauty, Its Attainment and Preservation, 1892]

Basically, too much peace and comfort in life, the very thing our ancestors fought to obtain, is now the offender. Get up, Puddin'. Nap time is over.

First, as regards repose, all soft habits of laziness, long since contracted, must be given up. Bed must be lain in for as short a while as possible, and only entered for sleep; much exercise, even violent exercise, must be taken. [Beauty's Aids: Or, How to Be Beautiful]

Water, the silent enemy

There was once a pervasive belief that water was fattening. The "science" behind it seemed to have to have something to do with water interfering with "gastric juice." If the gastric juice is allowed to attack solid food unimpeded, then...something something…weight loss could occur. This was the theory put forth by Thomas King Chambers in 1852, in his essay Corpulence: Or, Excess of Fat During Pregnancy. He extrapolated his theory that pregnant woman should be denied water to all those who were too stout. His work was supported by some of the era's most respected not-remotely-doctors who wrote medical advice for women.

Said Jameson:

Do not drink much water. A little lemon juice added to it will make it less fattening. [The Woman Beautiful]

The Countess C__ agrees:

First and most important, drink very little, as little as possible, and only red or white wine, preferably Burgundy, or tea or coffee slightly alcoholized. [Beauty's Aids; Or, How to Be Beautiful]

In America the number of fat people is growing larger every year and the suffering endured by this usually good-natured class of people is tremendous. As a matter of fact, a great deal of this discomfort might be avoided if people would not drink such an inordinate quantity of ice water and could be made to understand that thirst does not lie in the stomach and that it is not satisfied by pouring down water by the glassful. [Beauty, Its Attainment and Preservation]

The internal fatbustion engine

Nothing combats excess weight like an active lifestyle. Most diet books of the day strongly encouraged walking, riding, and even swimming. Just not for the reasons you would expect. You see, oxygen burns fat. Literally. You just have to breathe fresh air, and all that nasty fat goes up in smoke. It's just science.

Lina Cavalieri explains in her 1914 My Secrets of Beauty:

Fresh air is a destructive agent to fat. Oxygen burns carbon. To make this clear, let me ask you if you have noticed how a dying fire flames up when a draught of cold air is turned upon it? That is precisely what happens when a woman who is too fat goes out for a walk. Carbon, which is in the great folds of flesh that lie upon her abdomen and blanket her hips, is also a component part of the coat. Oxygen acts upon this as a burning match applied to paper. [My Secrets of Beauty]

Ms. Jameson supports Cavalieri's theory:

Oxygen destroys or burns out carbon, and carbon is fat. The more exercise and fresh air, the more oxygen, and consequently destruction of fat by the one healthy means of remedying obesity. [The Woman Beautiful]

True, human fat contains carbon, but that's because most fat people live on Earth, where all organic life is carbon-based. And oxygen is used in the conversion of fat to energy, but oxygen is used by humans for everything. It is the physical effort of exercise that taps the fat reserves, not air you breathe while doing it.

The porpoise is NOT a slender animal

Outdoor exercise is preferable, but if you are simply too much of a loose-busted corset snapper, there are other, less public options. Cavalieri insists that the stout woman begins her day by doing stretches in front of an open window. Sensible enough. Then, onto the rolling!

Banish all thoughts of going back to bed. Instead begin your rolling. There is no mystery about rolling. It is simply what the name indicates. Down upon the floor you go and roll over and over swiftly, not slowly as a porpoise rolls. The porpoise, you will observe, is not a slender animal. Roll over as a puppy, tingling with the joy of life, rolls in the dust when at play. Roll quickly. Make at least 80 revolutions before stopping. [My Secrets of Beauty]

Jameson can offer you an option even kinder, if you can't exercise your own body, have a machine do it for you!

To those who prefer, mechanical massage can be given, and this will take the place of long walks, although they are really preferable, as the fresh air is necessary. [The Woman Beautiful]

As for the "mechanical massage" that can consume that carbon-y fat just nearly as well as walking,Collector's Weekly has an excellent, horrific collection of what Ms. Jameson might be referring to.

And finally, my little Pudding Bag, if you needed any more motivation to lay off the tap water and get yourself strapped into a mechanical masseuse, this selection from Nathaniel Edward Yorke-Davie's 1889 Foods for the Fat: A Treatise on Corpulency and a Dietary for Its Cure will surely be the inspiration you need.

There are many other evils beyond corpulence that result from excess in eating, and a badly arranged dietary. Among them may be mentioned a deranged digestion, a loaded tongue, an oppressed stomach, vitiated secretions, a gorged liver, plethora and its consequences, a sluggish brain, with horrible dreams during sleep, and depression when awake. [Foods for the Fat: A Treatise on Corpulency and a Dietary for Its Cure]

I don't know what most of those conditions actually are, but they make for some fearful wicked poetry. This little porpoise has some tingling puppy rolls to do.

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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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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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