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Tuesday Turnip

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It's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip Google search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting factoids "turn-up."

Seeing as Thanksgiving is upon us, today I decided to type in "turkey consumption," unearthing the following cool list of factoids from a bunch of different sites:

"¢ Turkeys originated in North and Central America, and evidence indicates that they have been around for over 10 million years.

"¢ The American Indians hunted wild turkey for its sweet, juicy meat as early as 1000 AD. Turkey feathers were used to stabilize arrows and adorn ceremonial dress, and the spurs on the legs of wild tom turkeys were used as projectiles on arrowheads. They also shared a place in their folklore. The Navajos tell of an enormous hen turkey that flew over their fields bringing them corn and teaching them how to cultivate their crops. The Apache Indians considered the turkey timid and wouldn't eat it or use its feathers on their arrows.

"¢ In Mexico, the turkey was considered a sacrificial bird. As an article of tribute Montezuma received 365,000 turkeys per year from his subjects.

"¢ Benjamin Franklin was displeased when the bald eagle was chosen over his proposed "original native" turkey as a national symbol. He said the turkey is a more respectable bird and a true original native of America.

"¢ Until 1863, Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated annually since the first feast in 1621. This changed in 1863 when Sarah Josepha Hale encouraged Abraham Lincoln to set aside the last Thursday in November "as a day for national thanksgiving and prayer."

"¢ When U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin sat down to eat their first meal on the moon in their historic 1969 voyage, their foil food packets contained roasted turkey and all the trimmings.

"¢ Ninety percent of American homes eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Fifty percent eat turkey on Christmas.
"¢ Turkey eggs are pale creamy tan with brown speckles, and twice as large as chicken eggs. They hatch in 28 days. A baby turkey is called a poult and is tan and brown.

"¢ Domesticated turkeys (farm raised) cannot fly. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances at up to 55 miles per hour. Wild turkeys are also fast on the ground, running at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.

"¢ Only male turkeys (toms) gobble; females (hens) make a clicking noise. The gobble is a seasonal call during the Spring and Fall. Hens are attracted for mating when a tom gobbles. Wild toms love to gobble when they hear loud sounds or settle in for the night.

"¢ Turkeys have great hearing, a poor sense of smell, but an excellent sense of taste. They can also see in color, and have excellent visual acuity and a wide field of vision (about 270 degrees), which makes sneaking up on them difficult.

"¢ Turkeys are fed mainly a balanced diet of corn and soybean meal mixed with a supplement of vitamins and minerals. On average, it takes 75-80 pounds of feed to raise a 30-pound tom turkey.

"¢ Mature turkeys have 3,500 or so feathers at maturity.

"¢ The Guiness Book of Records states that the largest dressed weight (cooked, with dressing) recorded for a turkey is 39.09 kg (86 lb.) on December 12, 1989.

"¢ In 1999, about 273 million turkeys were raised in the United States. An estimated 276 million turkeys will be raised in 2000.

"¢ More than 45 million turkeys are cooked and eaten during Thanksgiving.

"¢ The average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving is 15 pounds. A 15-pound turkey typically has about 70% white meat and 30% dark meat.

"¢ Americans feast on approximately 535 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving.

"¢ Last year 2.74 billion pounds of turkey were processed in the United States.

"¢ Californians are the biggest turkey eaters in the country. They eat three pounds more turkey than the average American consumer.

"¢ The good old-fashioned turkey sandwich is the most popular way for Americans to prepare the fowl, accounting for 44 percent of consumption.

"¢ North Carolina produces 61 million turkeys annually, more than any other state. Minnesota and Arkansas are number two and three.

"¢ In the last twenty years, Americans' love of turkey has soared. Consumption based upon USDA data indicates:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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