Original image

5 Ways to Guarantee a Baby Boy (100 Years Ago)

Original image

If you were serious about producing a male heir around the turn of the 20th century, there was plenty of questionable advice to follow.

1. Science is for the Unimaginative

First, it’s important that we understand how human bodies select gender in reproduction. This is best accomplished through peer-reviewed scientific studies in a clinical environment. Or not. Sometimes you just know in your gut how reproductive microbiology works. Laura Davis, who wrote The Law of Sex Determination and Its Practical Application in 1916, didn’t need egghead science. She learned about ovaries and spermatozoa in the school of life:

The writer is not in a position to furnish absolute verification, through methods of anatomy or physiology, of her theory. She has no laboratories nor methods of precision by which her theory can be directly tested. But she is convinced of its truth from her own extensive experience in its practical application for a period of thirty years.

Argue with that, if you dare. It is through this extensive experience that Davis feels confident to share with you her secret. If you want a boy, it all depends on which ovary you decide to use.

2. Pick an Ovary

According to Davis, "Sex of the embryo in man and the higher animals is determined in the ovary from which the ovum in question is developed." She continued:

In the normal female the ovary of the right side yields ova which on fertilization develop as males, and the ovary of the left side yields ova which are potentially female. To this end the influence of gravitation can be utilized. In order that fertilizing spermatozoa shall reach the right or left ovary, it is necessary that gravity should carry them in the direction desired.

Therefore Davis would counsel women who wanted a boy to lie on their right sides. Percy John McElrath, who wrote The Key to Sex Control in 1911, also believed gravity was important to conception: 

After insemination she should lie for three or four hours on the side of the ovary which matured the ovum; if it is not known which ovary matured the ovum, she should choose the most comfortable side to lie on and remain on that side for five or six hours to assist by gravity the ovum to the fimbriae extremity of the Fallopian tube.

If society—or, say, his own personal sense of professionalism—had permitted Mr. McElrath to actually talk to a female in this era, he might have learned most women are hard-pressed to know “which ovary” they excreted an egg out of. Similarly, Mr. McElrath would be unlikely to know which of his testicles produced the most virile sperm. (Although he had a solution for that, as we shall soon see.)

3. Enfeeble Yourself

Henri Médile Gourrier, writing in 1886, didn’t think gravity or even ovaries mattered when it came to having a son. Gender was determined by whichever parent was the most feeble:

If marked symptoms of debility exist on the side of the sex that is desired, this sex will be produced naturally, without any effort being made.

Therefore, if a man wanted a boy, he must set about handicapping himself with what Gourrier called “The Debilitating Regimen”:

This is the most essential. The food should consist of thin soups, white meats, such as veal, chicken and lamb; mucilaginous articles of diet, such as corn starch and pastries; also vegetables and, in summer, fruits. For drink, in addition to water, weak tea may be taken with the meals. If a person desires to attain a still greater degree of debility, it is necessary to restrict the diet, to perform manual labor, and to bathe frequently in warm water.

So … in the 19th century one “debilitated” oneself by eating lean meats and vegetables, performing physical exercise, and taking warm baths. Somebody needs to tell all those people down at the gym the havoc they are wreaking on their bodies. If they continue that way, extensive bloodletting with an unwashed nail might be the only way for them to regain their health.

If the basic Debilitating Regimen did not result in a son, Gourrier permitted his readers to exercise even harder and then have some wine:

Then, finally, if this course does not suffice, aperient drinks should be taken, and the exercise of the body should be carried to fatigue.

Even better than the above methods was the Disease Method. The absolute best time to conceive a child of your own sex is on the immediate heels of any horrendous illness:

The period of convalescence from acute diseases. It is at such times that the senses and the generative organs, recovering from their somnolence, commence to shake off their inertia, and to come out of their inaptitude; that the fatigued body, that the depressed and enfeebled economy, finds itself in the most favorable condition for generation and for producing its own sex, both at the same time.

So, if you want a son, see if you can catch yourself a stout case of measles or any of the finer poxes. If you survive that, you and your wife are just one half-conscious encounter of life-sapping love away from a son.

4. Don't Blame Dad

Simon Newcomb, writing in 1904, made an earnest effort to reveal the mysteries of sex selection by using the most crafty of all deceits—statistics. His analysis of the birth records from 1900 yielded these conclusions:

Your Body Doesn’t Know What’s Going On, Either
The sex is not absolutely determined at any one moment or by any one act, but is the product of a series of accidental causes, some acting in one direction and some in another, until preponderance in one direction finally determines it. The statistics of twins and triplets seem to show very strongly that these accidents occur after conception, but throw no light upon the question of the time which they occupy.

Dad’s Got Almost Nothing to Do with It
The most natural inference from all the statistical data is that the functions of the father in generation are entirely asexual, the sex being determined wholly by the mother. If so, it cannot be said that one father is more likely than another to have children of either sex.

5. Orgasmic Ruptures!

Percy John McElrath may not have known much about women, but he was sure he knew how to get them produce a son. He believed sons resulted specifically from the intervention of the Graafian follicle in the ovary. You had to rupture it early to get a son, and the best way to do that was a well-timed orgasm.

Male-Production.—The spermatozoon must reach the ovum before it becomes old and female-producing. To do this it is necessary to inseminate at a time when orgasm of the female will rupture the Graafian follicle. Orgasm in the female will probably rupture a follicle from three to five days sooner than it would if allowed to burst of its own accord. It is better not to cohabit after the election date of insemination, inasmuch as orgasm of the female is liable to expel the fertilized ovum before it has become attached to the wall of the uterus.

McElrath’s theory was the opposite of Gourrier's. It was the robustness of a father, not his feebleness, which produced a son, so he gave special instructions to men on how to strengthen themselves. Key factors: potatoes, stay away from women, and flush those testicles daily!

To prepare the male for the production of a fine male child, he should go on a starch diet for two or three months prior to the anticipated insemination, work hard and constantly, remain secluded from the female, see that the clothing is loose about the testicles and that they are not subjected to any pressure just five or six days before the anticipated date of insemination. The semen should be ejected once each day for four or five days before insemination. This will insure the presence of the very best specimens of spermatozoa and at the same time require more activity on the part of the male to reach orgasm and will assist the female to orgasm.

To sum up Mr. McElrath’s approach to gender determination: Avoid women, both before and after conception. They are mythical creatures constantly trembling on the edge of orgasm, able to control their ovulatory system at will. Also, don't forget to masturbate. That way, if you’re lucky, you’ll only have to have sex once to ensure the propagation of the glory of manhood.

It’s important to remember that, for the most part, these people weren’t idiots. They were ambitious and tried to figure out something they didn’t understand with the little information they could collect. In 100 years, our great-great-grandchildren will no doubt be raising eyebrows at us, and how we had no clue most diseases are caused by a chemical secreted by house cats when they get their feelings hurt.

See Also:

7 Tips for Keeping Your Man (from the 1950s)
Mostly Terrible Advice for Daughters from Dads of Yore
100-Year-Old Wedding Night Advice for Newlyweds
7 Bizarre Ways Kids Entertained Themselves Before Video Games

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]