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Famous Globsters

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If you ask me, globsters have the makings of a terrible (but great) horror movie. What is a globster? So glad you asked. A globster is"¦ well"¦ it's kind of hard to define. Basically, it's a blobby-looking, unidentifiable carcass that has washed up on a shore somewhere. Some globsters have bones, some don't. Sometime they have tentacles, flippers and eyes, sometimes they don't.

One of the most famous globsters is the St. Augustine Monster.

It was first spotted by a couple of kids riding bikes on the beach on November 30, 1896. It had sunk into the sand under its own weight "“ only about half of it was visible to the boys. They thought it might be the leftovers of a beached whale, because something similar had happened in the same area a couple of years before. They reported the blob to a local physician, who went to the beach to inspect it the next day. He estimated that the carcass weighed five tons and that it might be a giant octopus because he could make out what he thought was four arm stumps, with another stump buried in the sand nearby.

Another doctor came for a look and described the thing as such:

"The head is as large as an ordinary flour barrel, and has the shape of a sea lion head. The neck, if the creature may be said to have a neck, is of the same diameter as the body. The mouth is on the under side of the head and is protected by two tentacle tubes about eight inches in diameter and about 30 feet long. These tubes resemble an elephant's trunk and obviously were used to clutch in a sucker like fashion any object within their reach.

"Another tube or tentacle of the same dimensions stands out on the top of the head. Two others, one on each side, protrude from beyond the monster's neck, and extend fully 15 feet along the body and beyond the tail. The tail, which is separated and jagged with cutting points for several feet, is flanked with two more tentacles of the same dimensions as the others and 30 feet long. The eyes are under the back of the mouth instead of over it."

Yikes. Over the years, it has been speculated that, among other things, the carcass was that of a sea monster, a giant octopus, a sperm whale and a giant squid. A chunk of the blob was preserved at the Smithsonian, and over the years it has been tested by various scientists. The most recent, conducted in 2004, concluded that it the globster had once been a whale.

In fact, research is now showing that most of the globsters are probably just big chunks of blubber that have fallen off decomposing whales. Delightful. Or maybe that's just a conspiracy to make us think that's what globsters are (I saw Cloverfield last weekend, people).
Nevertheless, some other well-known globsters include:

The Tasmanian Globster washed up on the shores of western Tasmania in 1960, measured about 20 by 18 feet and weighed somewhere between five and ten tons. It didn't have any eyes, and instead of a mouth it had "soft, tusk-like protuberances". It did have a spine, in addition to six fleshy arms and stiff white bristles all over its body.

The Bermuda Blob was found by fisherman Teddy Tucker in Mangrove Bay, Bermuda, in May 1988. Compared to the others, this guy was relatively small: only about three feet thick. He described it as being white and fibrous and having five arms kind of like a starfish. Turns out it was just the remains of a big shark.

globster.jpg"¢ In 1990, a globster was found across the pond in Hebrides, Scotland. It was found by Louise Whitts, who said it looked like it has a head at one end, furry skin and lots of fin shapes along its back. No samples were taken of the Hebrides Blob, so it's unknown what it was exactly.

"¢ Tasmania is a popular gathering ground for these things, I guess, because the Four Mile Globster was found on Four Mile Beach in Tasmania in 1997. It was 15 feet long and weighed about four tons. It was described a lot like the first Tasmanian Globster: strands of white hair, fleshy lobes and some flipper/arm like things. This one was also never tested. Suspicious!

The Chilean Blob really takes the cake"¦ or the beach, as it were. The 13-ton (!) globster (below) was found in the sand in Los Muermos, Chile, in July 2003. At the time, biologists couldn't figure out what it could possibly be and thought that it might be some sort of giant octopus previously unknown to man. About a year later, after DNA testing, they discovered that some of the DNA matched that of a sperm whale and the blob was just part of a whale's remains.

globster1.jpg

Really, all I have to say about any of that is "ew". Can you imagine swimming in the ocean and accidentally brushing your leg up against any of that? I'm so grossed out right now.

What do you guys think? Whales? Unidentified sea creatures? Government cover up?? Despite my joking, I think whale blubber seems pretty plausible.

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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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