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10 Misconceptions About Things That Kill You

Don't miss an episode—subscribe here! (Images and footage provided by our friends at Shutterstock. This transcript comes courtesy of Nerdfighteria Wiki.)

Hi, I'm Elliott, this is mental_floss on YouTube. Today, I'm gonna talk about some misconceptions about deadly things and situations, so buckle up. No, really.

1. YOU SINK IN QUICKSAND.

As John Mulaney said, "I always thought quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be." A 2005 study published in the journal Nature found that people can't totally sink in quicksand.  We actually float in it, because we're not dense enough to sink in the mixture of sand, clay, and saltwater. Even if someone struggles and wiggles like we're told not to do, the most a person will sink is probably waist deep. At that point, if they just wait patiently for the quicksand to settle, they should be able to start floating out.

2. PULLING OUT A KNIFE IS BETTER THAN LEAVING IT INSIDE YOU.

If you get impaled by any object, and I sincerely hope you don't, you should leave it in, then call 911 or get to the emergency room. Emergency medicine physician from the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dr. David Beiser has said, "It may be plugging a hole in an artery or vein, and as soon as you take it out, you could bleed to death."  

3. IF YOU RUN OUT OF WATER IN THE DESERT, YOU CAN DRINK FROM A CACTUS. 

People may tell you that if you're stranded and dehydrated in the desert, you should try to open a cactus for water. First of all, that is not water, okay, it's more juicy cactus pulp, and second, that juicy cactus pulp contains a lot of toxic alkaloids, which can make a person vomit or have diarrhea, which will only make them more dehydrated. So just, if you're out there, just good luck.

4. IF YOU'RE DEHYDRATED, YOU CAN DRINK YOUR OWN URINE.

Gross. Many people have claimed that drinking their own urine has saved them in desperate situations. Lookin' at you, Bear Grylls, okay? And it's true that this will work for a day or two, but 5% of urine is waste products that your kidneys are intentionally getting rid of, so as you continue to pee and drink, just having a great time, partying or whatever, the urine will contain more and more waste products which are dangerous to drink. This will eventually cause kidney failure. Also, gross.

5. AN UMBRELLA WILL SLOW A BIG FALL. 

It will not. In fact, in 2013, pro-skier, Erik Roner tried to skydive with just an umbrella (well, and like, a backup parachute). It may have slowed him down a little bit at first, but within a few seconds, the umbrella flipped up, making it completely useless.

6. HOUSE FIRES ARE LESS LIKELY THAN FIRES IN COMMERCIAL AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS.

According to a survey conducted by The Society of Fire Protection Engineers, 65% of Americans feel safer from fires at home compared to a commercial or public building. But most deaths due to fire happen in the home. In 2011, there were around 2,500 deaths in the U.S. due to fires in the home. That same year, there were only about 100 deaths due to fires in non-residential buildings.  

7. THERE ARE NO TORNADOES IN WINTER. 

Not true! Tornadoes are possible any month or season. In fact, in 2008, there was a notable tornado outbreak on February 5 and 6 in the southern United States. Five states were affected over the course of about 15 hours: Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama, and Tennessee, and actually, tornadoes can be even deadlier in the wintertime because they typically move faster. That was me doing a tornado. My mini tornado. You're welcome.

8. IF AN ELEVATOR IS FALLING, JUMPING WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE.

People say that if you're caught in a falling elevator, jumping at the exact moment of impact might save you, but this doesn't really work, okay? You need to have a very impressive reaction time, and even still, you could only reduce the speed of your impact by about 2 to 3 miles per hour. You'd also need to jump faster than the elevator was falling, which would be pretty tough, considering falling elevators tend to hit the ground at about 50mph.

9. ALWAYS PLAY DEAD DURING A BEAR ATTACK. 

According to experts, how to act during a bear attack depends whether the bear is being predatory or defensive.  Grizzly bears tend to attack when they're being defensive. In those cases, it's best to play dead, because that shows the bear you're not a threat. Black bears are usually attacking in a predatory way. In this case, playing dead doesn't do much. If you have food, drop it, and back away slowly. If the bear keeps coming, you should get aggressive, scream and be loud. If you have pepper spray, you should use that. Just get out of there.

10. SUCK THE POISON OUT OF A SNAKE BITE TO SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Emergency room physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Robert A. Barish has claimed, "The evidence suggests that cutting and sucking, or applying a tourniquet or ice does nothing to help the victim. Although these outdated measures are still widely accepted by the general public, they may do more harm than good by delaying prompt medical care, contaminating the wound, or by damaging nerves and blood vessels."

Thank you for watching Misconceptions on mental_floss on YouTube. If you have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions episode that you would like to see, leave it down in the comments and we'll go through it and we'll inform you of all the misconceptions about it. It'll be awesome. I'll see you next week. Bye.  

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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© Nintendo
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fun
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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