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10 Ways To Keep Your Seasonal Allergies Under Control

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Most people think of spring as peak allergy season, but depending on where you live, outdoor allergens are present year-round (in New York, for example, pollen season typically begins in June). During the spring, summer, and early fall, pollen from trees and weeds may cause you to suffer from congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing. Whether you’re allergic to grass pollen, tree pollen, weeds, molds, or pet dander, here are 10 ways to keep your seasonal allergies under control.

1. KEEP POLLEN OUT OF YOUR HOME.

Taking steps to keep pollen and other outdoor allergens out of your home will give you some relief from allergy symptoms. Keep windows and doors closed, and don’t hang up laundry to air dry outside (pollen can cling to sheets and clothes). Vacuuming and dusting will also keep your floors as clean and allergen-free as possible. Consider wearing a dust mask while you clean to avoid inhaling allergens.

2. TAKE ALLERGY MEDICINE BEFORE THINGS GET BAD.

It might be tempting to ignore symptoms of mild nasal congestion or watery eyes, but your allergy symptoms can get bad quickly. According to Dr. Kellie Lim, an allergist-immunologist who practices at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, you can prevent or minimize symptoms by taking medication before allergy season starts. “The best treatment for allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is a nasal steroid spray,” Lim tells mental_floss. Oral antihistamines (such as Zyrtec, Allegra, and Claritin) also help to treat symptoms and can safely be taken daily for long periods of time.

3. IRRIGATE YOUR NASAL PASSAGES.

Nasal irrigation may look weird, but it can provide much needed allergy relief. By squirting a saline solution (distilled or previously boiled water plus salt) up one nostril and out the other, you flush out allergens and extra mucus from your nostrils and sinuses. Dr. Suman Golla, an Associate Professor, Ear Nose & Throat at University of Pittsburgh Medical School, tells mental_floss that saline nasal rinses and neti pots are very effective at cleansing the nasal passages of pollen, dust, and other irritants and allergens.

4. CHOOSE WHEN TO EXERCISE OUTDOORS WISELY.

Pollen levels vary throughout the day, so be strategic about when you head outside to exercise, do chores, or have a picnic. According to Golla, patients with severe allergies may want to consider staying indoors during the early morning or late evening hours, when pollen counts are high. Lim suggests outdoor exercise after it rains, when pollen counts are typically low. Keep in mind that sunny, warm, windy days with low humidity generally have high pollen counts, but the ubiquity of pollen means that you can never completely escape it.

5. DITCH YOUR RUGS.

For allergy sufferers, hardwood and tile floors are preferable to carpets. If you rent your home or don’t want to remove your carpeting, ditch any area rugs you might have. These rugs can act like magnets for allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust, and dust mites. Even if you vacuum and wash your rugs regularly, allergens from your shoes or pets can get embedded in the fibers, making your home less allergy-friendly.

6. CHECK THE WEATHER REPORT FOR A POLLEN FORECAST.

Just like the temperature, pollen counts change daily. If you’re planning to spend the day outdoors, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you check the pollen forecast for your area to determine if you should take more allergy medicine, stay indoors, or close your windows. Visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s National Allergy Bureau for pollen and mold levels, or head to The Weather Channel’s allergy forecast to see pollen activity in your area for the next few days.

7. SHOWER BEFORE YOU GO TO SLEEP.

If you’ve spent the day outside, take a shower before going to sleep to wash allergens off your body and out of your hair. A clean body, free of pollen and dust, will help keep your bed clean, giving you a better chance of getting a full night’s sleep—without sneezing fits.

8. KEEP PETS OFF YOUR BED.

Making your bedding allergy-friendly can be a big boon to easing your allergy symptoms. Golla stresses the importance of keeping pets out of the bedroom: “Within the bedroom, the upholstery, draperies, and the bed itself are prime locations for pet dander deposition. Please do your best to keep your pets out of your bedroom and especially out of your bed.” To minimize dust mites, use a zippered, allergen-proof pillowcase and mattress cover, and regularly wash your linens in hot water (around 130 to 140°F) to kill the mites (and remove their eggs).

9. USE AN AIR PURIFIER.

If you have central air conditioning, make sure you regularly clean the vents so that dust and other allergens don't blow around your home. You can also purchase an air purifier with a HEPA filter to keep your air as clean as possible. “An air purifier can be very effective in reducing allergen exposure, if used in certain conditions,” says Lim. Her advice? Put the air purifier in your bedroom or home office, and keep pets out and windows closed. Vacuum and clean the room frequently to reduce allergens and ensure that the purifier is able to filter particles as effectively as possible.

10. SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT WITH AN ALLERGIST.

If you’re still struggling with your allergies, book an appointment with an allergist who is board-certified in Allergy and Immunology. Your allergist can facilitate allergy testing, prescribe medications, and explore long-term treatment options such as allergy shots.

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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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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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