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24 Sure Signs You’re an 1890s Kid

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

If you can remember these fashion fads, recess trends, and dubious medical practices, you were definitely an 1890s kid.

1. Acting Up in Class Was Punishable by “Nose Hole” (If You Were Lucky).

Truly bad behavior often led to some old-fashioned corporal punishment. That said, lenient teachers had another card to play when a minor offense was committed. Culprits would be instructed to clasp their hands behind them and press their noses up against a circle drawn on the blackboard (aka: “the nose hole”) for a few embarrassing minutes.

2. You Played “Ante Over” At Recess.

The rules were simple. Two teams would stand on opposite sides of a building and toss a ball over the roof, shouting “Ante-Over!” with each serve. This volleyball-like sport remained a treasured pastime until the Second World War.

3. You Used Cocaine to Fight Toothaches.

Well, that’s one way to get junior to take his medicine! Medicinal toothache drops laden with the addictive substance could be had for a measly fifteen cents per bottle.

4. Ragtime Was Considered Scandalous.

Long before televangelists were denouncing rock ‘n roll, Gilded Age critics complained that Ragtime fanciers had “sold themselves body and soul to the musical devil.”

5. Beautiful Joe Made You Cry.

Scott Plumbe

Marley & Me has nothing on Marshall Saunders! Her 1893 book, told from the perspective of a hopeful little dog, sold just under 1,000,000 copies. Legions of kids fell in love with plucky Joe’s story, and teared up whenever it involved a vicious human abusing him.

6. You Didn't Know if Your New Friends’ Houses had Indoor Plumbing.

Make no mistake—flush toilets were definitely around. But less than a quarter of American homes actually included them late in the 19th century, partially because running water hadn’t yet taken off in many regions.

7. You Knew Gelett Burgess’ Poem “Purple Cow” By Heart.

Thinkstock

“I never saw a purple cow/ I never hope to see one/ But I can tell you anyhow/ I’d rather see than be one.” This simple rhyme (published in 1895) became an unexpected national hit. Overwhelmed by its meme-like popularity, Burgess spoofed his own creation two years later: “O yes, I wrote the Purple Cow/ I’m sorry now I wrote it/ But I can tell you anyhow, / I’ll kill you if you quote it.”

8. Your Mom Really Wanted a Turkish Couch.

Thanks to your good friends at the Sears-Roebuck company, Turkish couches turned into very popular mail-order furnishings. 

9. You Heard the Terrifying Screams of Edison’s Phonograph Dolls.

Not all of Thomas Edison’s inventions were hits. The short-lived “Phonograph Doll” recited pre-recorded nursery rhymes, which were stored on wax records. However, these discs wore out fast—and when they did, the toy released a blood-curdling screech. Parents of traumatized children demanded refunds en masse, forcing Edison to pull the plug.

10. You Had to Curtsy or Bow to Your Teacher Every Morning.

You’d be expected to perform one of these genteel gestures while entering the school-house each day, a ritual called “making your manners." [PDF]

11. You Remember Rover II Mania.

John Kemp Starley’s Rover II safety bicycle was a huge seller in the U.S. and U.K. alike; midway through the decade, some 300 firms were mass-producing them. Cycling was big business, as evidenced by the 100,000-member-strong “League of American Wheelmen.” 

12. If You Were A Boy, You Couldn't Wait to Outgrow Knickers.

Stores and catalogues offered a nearly-endless variety of Knickerbockers, but these were mostly just for kids. Baseball players notwithstanding, young men usually swapped their baggy shorts for a decent pair of trousers in their teen years.

13. You Couldn't Wait to get Your First Shirtwaist.

Putting on one of those blouse-like garments for the first time (around her 15th birthday or so) sometimes felt like a gal’s rite of passage, since younger children largely didn’t wear them.

14. You Remember Jelly-Con’s Sweet Dessert Empire.

Before Jell-O came along, its now-extinct rival, Jelly-Con, offered similar gelatin products “for the immediate production of a delicious and tempting Dessert.” These two companies would later embark on an epic Coke/Pepsi-style advertising duel.

15. You Visited the Local Milk Bar.

Large dairy companies wouldn’t go through the expense of pasteurizing their own milk, so independent street-corner “processing stations” began flourishing in cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Trained vendors used to pasteurize pints and quarts of the stuff, which were then sold off at prices even the poorest families could afford.

16. “Rival Policemen” Was Your Favorite Board Game.

The Games We Played, by Margaret Hofer

Competing police forces struggled to catch the largest number of wanted felons in this McLoughlin Brothers classic.

17. You Rooted for the Boxing Gordon Sisters.

Eccentric vaudeville performers were a dime a dozen, but this gaggle of fighting siblings just might’ve taken the cake. Bessie (“Belle”), Minnie, Alice, and Freda Gordon spent several glorious years in the late 1890s and early 1900s slugging it out while touring the east coast, delighting gimmick-loving audiences.

18. You Shouted “Bully!”

Today, we mainly associate this exclamation (meaning “wonderful” or “excellent”) with Theodore Roosevelt’s odd vocabulary, but folks of all ages were yelling “Bully!” long before TR occupied the Oval Office.

19. The Pledge of Allegiance Went Like This:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Written by National Education Association committeeman Francis Bellamy in 1892, the original recitation was barely tampered with until 1923 (it was changed still further in 1954, when the phrase “Under God” was added).

20. Christmas Season Was Roughly One Week Long.

Consider the diary of one Mr. Llewellyn Barker. In 1890, his family didn’t start shopping for Christmas presents until December 19th and waited until the 24th to cut down a tree. In the days before mass-marketing and X-Mas jingles being played in early November, their approach was quite typical.

21. You Might Have Taken “Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People.”

The awesomely-named drug was heavily advertised in 82 countries & claimed to help cure any disease caused by “thin, impoverished blood” or “nervous disorders resulting from malnutrition."

22. You Wore a Lot of Mauve.

During the late 19th century, purple clothes—long associated with royalty thanks to the expensive dyes used in making them—became so widely-available that the 1890s have been called “The Mauve Decade.”

23. You Wanted to Play the Mandolin.

Just before the two countries went to war, roaming American bands found great success imitating Spanish music. Their most iconic weapon? The festive mandolin.

24. Happiness was a Steel Rolling Hoop.

The timeless game of “hoop rolling” could be challenging, but wooden hoops made it tougher still because they needed to be repeatedly hit with one’s stick in order to keep moving. Metal varieties, on the other hand, could be pushed along more easily.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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