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8 Facts About the Ankle

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The humble ankle has had a remarkable history as an object of fetishization: Think Victorian sexual repression and high heels. Of course, its significance is also practical. Without ankles, there would be no sports or dance. Not only would nobody be able to score a touchdown, we wouldn't even be able to walk. Here are eight things you may not have known about this basic but crucial joint:

1. THE ANKLE IS COMPOSED OF JUST THREE MAIN BONES.

The true ankle joint is composed of three bones: the tibia, or the inside part of the ankle; the fibula, the outside part of the ankle, and the talus, underneath. These allow the flexion and extension of the foot, letting you make the up and down motions that you require to walk. Below the ankle joint is actually a second joint called the subtalar joint, which allows side-to-side motion of the foot. Altogether, the human foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

2. THE ANKLE JOINT IS NOTORIOUSLY WOBBLY.

Despite how often humans are on their feet, the ankle joint is small and unstable in the best of times because of its precarious anatomical structure. Most people will experience a tweaked, twisted or sprained ankle at least once in their lives.

3. ANKLE SPRAINS ARE THE MOST COMMON INJURY IN AMERICA.

When you couple the weak ankle joint with the vigorous activity it’s required to perform, it’s no surprise that ankle sprains account for nearly 2 million injuries every year, or 20 percent of all sports injuries in the United States.

4. NOT ALL OF THESE SPRAINS ARE SPORTS-RELATED.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported an estimated 125,355 high heel-related injuries in U.S. Emergency Departments between 2002 and 2012. In 2011 alone, there were a reported 19,000 injuries from high heels. The injury rate was greatest for women in their 20s. Another survey from the College of Podiatry found that most women reported foot pain after one hour and six minutes of wearing high heels, and 20 percent of participants said that they felt pain after just 10 minutes of wear.

5. NEVER JUST "WALK OFF" AN ANKLE SPRAIN.

You can actually do significant damage if you’re walking on an untreated ankle sprain, according to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Treatments may range from rest, ice, and ibuprofen to casts, braces, and even surgery. Always seek a doctor’s care if you think you’ve sprained an ankle.

6. THE ANKLE WAS TOO EROTIC FOR PUBLIC VIEWING IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND.

A woman lifting her skirt to show her ankle was considered provocative in Victorian England. This is ironic, given that the Victorians were at the same time producers of copious pornography.

7. "PRETTIEST ANKLE" CONTESTS WERE POPULAR THROUGH THE 1930s.

While the Victorian era repressed women’s displays of their bodies, the 1930s were all about exposing the ankles. In fact, according to Mashable, in the UK “pretty ankle” competitions were popular events until about World War II.

8. YOU MIGHT WANT TO RETHINK AN ANKLE TATTOO.

Because the foot and ankle generally don’t have much fat or flesh, getting a tattoo on this skinny extremity can be extremely painful. Because of how much use your foot and ankle get, they also can take twice as much time to heal as other locations—but it could give you a leg up in an ankle competition.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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