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10 Weird Resuscitation Techniques From 200 Years Ago

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If you have a cardiac arrest today, and are revived by the wonders of modern medicine, you should thank your lucky stars that you’re alive. You should also give thanks that your resuscitation took place today, rather than 200 years ago. Because back then, techniques of bringing back the dead were far less effective. And much more bizarre.

Many of those odd approaches to bringing back the dead come from the efforts of a London physician named William Hawes (1736–1808) to revive drowning victims. Hawes wanted corpses to experiment on, so he hit on the somewhat ghoulish expedient of paying anyone who would bring him a body rescued from the water “within a reasonable time of immersion.” Think of it as the human version of a deposit on bottles.

Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead is about the strange new science of resuscitation and CPR, but I’ve discovered that much of today’s exciting science is distantly related to Hawes’ early experiments. His forays into the science of resuscitation led to the formation of the British Royal Humane Society—which is still around today—which devoted itself to trying (and reporting on) all sorts of methods of bringing back the dead. A few of those methods worked, but many were uncomfortable, a few were dangerous, and a couple were just plain crazy. Yet somewhere in that mix of goodhearted efforts, the strange new science of bringing back the dead was born.

1. Rubs and marinades

One of the earliest resuscitation techniques recommended by the Society was the application of friction with “rough cloth or flannel.” A variant involved using a combination of vinegar, wine, and liquor. Descriptions of this technique read less like a resuscitation manual and more like a grilling cookbook.

2. Sticks and whips

A less attractive version required "rescuers" to beat the victim with whips or sticks. I suppose it’s hard to see a downside to this approach. If the victim wakes up, presumably he’ll thank you. If he doesn’t, well, no harm done.

3. Blowing smoke

Early rescuers were advised to light up a pipe and blow smoke directly into the victim’s mouth or nostrils. A variant (fortunately, rejected by the Royal Humane Society) involves blowing smoke first into an animal bladder, and then releasing the smoke into the victim’s rectum. If we set aside that last option—and please let’s do—there’s a certain appeal to arriving at a scene of crisis, only to pause, remove a briarwood pipe from one’s waistcoat pocket, and embark on the little rituals of filling, tamping, lighting, and puffing. That sort of routine would surely have a calming effect on panicked bystanders and family members—reason enough to use it, even if it didn’t work.

4. Barrel-rolling

Another technique used by early rescuers involved rolling a victim back and forth over a wine barrel. Why you’d want to do this is anyone’s guess. Maybe it helped the victim to breathe. Maybe it helped to extract water from the lungs of a drowning victim. Who knows? On the bright side, though, if the resuscitation is effective, you could always tap into the barrel for the ingredients of a celebration. And if resuscitation fails, well, solace is near at hand, too.

5. Ivory nostril pipes

For a while, ivory nostril pipes were all the rage. The Royal Society describes this device as “a short ivory pipe inserted into one of the nostrils, pressing back the lower part of the larynx upon the commencement of the oesophagus, to prevent the air from passing down into the stomach.” The tube would be inserted through the nose and down into the trachea, and attached to bellows. To be fair, there’s some solid reasoning to support this. Even now, when passing a breathing tube is difficult—as it is when a patient is overweight—a nasal tube is often much easier. It’s also a more reliable technique when the person trying to inflate a victim’s lungs is inexperienced, as most doctors in the 18th century no doubt were.

6. Arm-flapping

Alas, other maneuvers the Society recommended have much less science to justify them. A case in point: “Grasp the patient's arms just above the elbows, and draw the arms gently and steadily upwards, until they meet above the head.” Next, “turn down the patient's arms, and press them gently and firmly for two seconds against the sides of the chest.” No doubt this energetic flapping put on quite a show for bystanders, but it probably did nothing to bring anyone back from the dead.

7. Feathers

Another questionable technique was tickling the back of a victim’s throat with a feather. Like beating a victim with whips, this one is a little difficult to justify. In fact, it’s likely to do more harm than good. For instance, activating the gag reflex when someone is unconscious, or semi-conscious, can lead to vomiting and subsequent inhalation of stomach contents (aspiration pneumonitis). That is known in medical circles as A Very Bad Thing.

8. Strange bedfellows

The Royal Humane Society offered strident recommendations that the apparently dead should be warmed in the quickest way possible. Immersion in warm water was a common suggestion, as were blankets, warm sand, or placing the victim next to a fire. The Society—forgetting for a moment its Victorian moral code—even advocated the use of volunteers who would climb into bed with the apparently dead. It’s not clear whether these volunteers were supposed to be fully clothed, but that’s probably best left to the imagination.

There is something to be said for warming, because cold temperatures make the heart’s normal rhythm unstable and unreliable. Indeed, there’s a saying in emergency medicine that cardiac arrest victims shouldn’t be declared dead until they’re warm and dead.

9. The Russian Method

On the other hand, what was known somewhat ominously as The Russian Method focused on cold. Rather than putting the victim in bed with his or her fellows, the Russians apparently believed that cold was better. So they would pack victims in ice or cold water ... or they would simply toss them outside. Although cold does make it more difficult to restart a heart, cold can also slow metabolism, which can help cardiac arrest victims be less susceptible to brain damage caused by low levels of oxygen.

10. Horseback riding lessons

By far my favorite resuscitation option involves … a horse. The steps are simple: 1) Throw the victim over the back of a spirited but cooperative horse; 2) Slap the horse’s rump; 3) Repeat as necessary. The logic of this maneuver is not entirely clear. But apparently the up-and-down motion of the horse’s back was supposed to produce an effect not unlike what is accomplished today with CPR, albeit with considerably more panache. (Full disclosure: I’ve actually tried this technique, playing the role of a victim. I can assure you that it is entirely as unpleasant as it sounds. Do not try this at home).

All images courtesy of iStock.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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