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6 Forgotten Places, Rediscovered

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Imgur

Visiting these rooms, businesses, and homes is like traveling back in time.

1. The Old Operating Theatre

Wikimedia Commons

In 1822, there was no surgical anesthesia. Operations were performed quick and dirty right in a wealthy person’s home or, for poorer patients, in a hospital ward. The distress of hearing a patient suffer through a surgery might have been what caused the Woman’s Dorcas Ward at London’s St. Thomas Hospital to build a small surgical theatre, carving it into the attic of an adjoining church. The theatre allowed student surgeons and apothecaries to view procedures, and allowed patients who might not otherwise be able to afford the surgeries to get them, in exchange for their privacy. In 1862, the hospital changed locations, and the operating theatre was partially dismantled and bricked up. Its special skylight, all important to illuminate the procedures being performed for the observing students, was covered in slate. The only way to access the attic surgery was through an opening in a wall, 15 feet above the floor. If you did get in, you would find yourself in a completely dark room with missing floorboards. In 1957, a man named Raymond Russell ventured into the darkness and found enough fascinating remains of the theatre to warrant a restoration. In 1962, the operating theatre was meticulously restored and opened as The Old Operating Theatre Museum

2. Posters in the Underground

Disused passageway with vintage 1959 posters, Notting Hill Gate tube station, London, 2010

In 2010, the London Underground began upgrading their Notting Hill Gate station. In the process of the renovation, workers uncovered a  section of tunnel that had been sealed up since the mid 1950s. The area had serviced people taking the elevator to the Tube, which was replaced with escalators in 1959.  The walls of this station were lined with a museum’s worth of advertisements and movie posters dating from between 1956 and 1959, left just as they were when the area was closed 50 years ago. The unusual part of this discovery is that the London Underground will be sealing the tunnel, and the posters, right back up again. The area will be untampered with, and completely off limits to civilians.  

3. Fulling Mill Cottage


British Listed Buildings

This thatched roof English cottage was likely quite a stately home when it was built in the 1400s. Its acreage was no doubt well farmed, and there is evidence in the traces of the stream that runs near it that it once supported a cloth mill. By 1870, the Saigeman family came to own The Fulling Mill Cottage, as it was now known. In 2010, the last surviving member of that family, Fred Saigeman, died. The cat charity that Saigeman left his home (and his 82 feral cats) to were shocked by the time warp they discovered within its crumbling walls. 

“He just lived a basic life, with one cold tap in the scullery and the occasional bare light bulb to see by. He chopped wood to light fires and cooked his meals in an old cauldron over the flames. He slept on a mattress on the floor and bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire,” a domestic life likely less comfortable, but otherwise similar to the cottage’s original inhabitants. Cat Welfare Sussex has undertaken to restore the severely dilapidated but priceless historic home.

4. Mr. Straw’s House

Mr Straw's House

William Straw was a successful grocer at the start of the 20th century. He and his wife bought a new home in 1923 Worksop, England. They decorated it attractively in the fashion of the time, and set about raising their two sons there. In 1932, William suddenly died. His family decided, though they continued to live there, to leave the home he once shared with them exactly as he left it, or as close as possible. The cupboards were still filled with the cans and jars of long extinct companies, and Mr. Straw’s coats, hats and shoes remained lined up in the hallway. Mrs. Straw died in 1938, and her two sons, independently wealthy, lived the rest of their lives in the house, changing nearly nothing. They died without heirs and left the house to the National Trust, who discovered a treasure frozen in time. Read more here.

5. First Class Shoe Store

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Earlier this year, Redditor Oktober75 posted to the r/pics sub-reddit something his family had discovered in a building they owned: an old shoe store, closed down in the 1960s, still fully stocked. Despite Oktober75’s insistence that the rubber and leather of the shoes were brittle and dry to the point of being unwearable, he was inundated with requests to  purchase some of his family’s bounty. The astounding Imgur threads for the fantastic footwear finds are here and here.

6. Lambrecht Chevrolet

MessyNessyChic

Ray and Mildred Lambrecht are in their 90s now, but they sold cars from their Chevy dealership in Pierce, Nebraska for 50 years. They closed their dealership in the late 1990s, and never liquidated their unsold stock. Instead, they accumulated around 500 Chevrolets over those 50 years, most stored away from the elements in a warehouse. Though some were trade-ins, many of the cars are still showroom-new aside from some dust and five or ten miles on the odometer. The Lambrechts put their collection of 1950s and '60s Impalas, TRi-Fives, Chevelles, and countless others up for auction in September of this year. The true classic car lover might enjoy an exploration of the Lambrecht’s untouched collection in this video.  

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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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