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What's the Difference Between Robitussin, Sudafed, and Mucinex?

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Contrary to popular belief, antibiotics won’t do anything for a cold or the flu, since they’re caused by viruses and not bacteria. Your best bet is to just treat the symptoms and let it pass through your system. The best way to do that is to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. If that’s not proactive enough for you, cold medicine might be able to help.

There are three major categories of cold medicine: decongestants, cough suppressants, and expectorants. Some of the most popular brands combine two or more of these actions for multi-symptom relief. Look at the bottles before you buy; it’s important to know which mechanism may help your symptoms.

NOTE: If your cough lasts several weeks, you have a fever of 101°F or higher, you’re coughing up thick yellow or green phlegm (or blood), or you’re wheezing, it’s time to put down the Robitussin and call a doctor.

DECONGESTANTS (SUDAFED)

Decongestants work by reducing inflammation in your nose and airways, thus making it easier for you to breathe.

Good for: Stuffy nose and other congestion in the upper respiratory tract (your face and neck)

Won’t help with: Cough, runny nose

Watch out for: Do not take a decongestant for more than three days. If you do, you might experience a rebound effect, which can make you more congested than you were to begin with.

COUGH SUPPRESSANTS (HALLS, DELSYM, ROBITUSSIN DM)

Cough suppressants work by shutting down your cough reflex. This may seem like a good thing, especially if you’ve been hacking for days, but coughing is your body’s way of trying to get rid of gross stuff in your chest and throat. There’s also very little evidence that cough suppressants actually work (although there’s also little evidence that they don’t work).

Good for: Possibly repressing coughs so you can sleep

Won’t help with: Nasal congestion, actually beating a cold

Watch out for: Many cough suppressants contain an additive called dextromethorphan (the “DM” in Robitussin DM) that can speed up your heart rate. If you’ve had any heart problems or high blood pressure, do not take these drugs before talking to your doctor.

EXPECTORANTS (MUCINEX)

It’s right there in the name: Expectorants help thin the gunk in your body so you can cough it up and spit it out. Drinking water can also help with this.

Good for: A chest full of phlegm

Not great for: Anybody working in close quarters—the results are going to be rather visceral

Watch out for: Like cough suppressants, there’s little evidence that expectorants actually help. Pay attention to your cough. If you feel like the medicine isn’t helping, there’s no reason to keep taking it.

All photos 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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]

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