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Bees vs. Hornets vs. Wasps: What's the Difference?

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blind-melon-bee.jpgThe Dilemma: "What just stung me?!"


People You Can Impress: six-year-olds (maybe)


The Quick Trick: A bee can generally only sting you once, while hornets and wasps can sting multiple times.


The Explanation: The problem with elucidating the difference between wasps and hornets is that, at least according to most definitions of wasps, all hornets are wasps. So here's the deal:

Bees are fuzzy pollen collectors that almost always die shortly after stinging people (because the stinger becomes embedded in the skin, which prevents multiple stings). Bees don't die each time they sting, though; the primary purpose of the stinger is to sting other bees, which doesn't result in the loss of the stinger.

Wasps are members of the family Vespidae, which includes yellow jackets and hornets. Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and are definitely not fuzzy. Only the females have stingers, but they can sting people repeatedly.

Hornets are a small subset of wasps not native to North America (the yellow jacket is not truly a hornet). Somewhat fatter around the middle than your average wasp, the European hornet is now widespread on the East Coast of the U.S. Like other wasps, hornets can sting over and over again and can be extremely aggressive.

The Best Darn Animal Roundup Since Noah!

Monarch Butterfly vs. Viceroy Butterfly: Both butterflies have very similar bright orange markings and excrete a bitter acid that makes them taste terrible. But only the monarch flies thousands of miles south in the winter.

Snail vs. Slug: Snails have telltale spiral shells; slugs have shells, too, but they're invisible because they're located inside their bodies.

Donkey vs. Mule: A mule is the offspring of a female horse (that is, a mare) and a jackass (that is, either a male donkey or Johnny Knoxville). Mules are sterile and slow, but they're also strong and hard- working. A donkey is an animal closely related to the horse (obviously, since they can mate), but donkeys are smaller and have longer ears. (See also Eeyore.)

Llama vs. Emu: Both are newly domesticated farm animals, but that's where the similarity ends: Llamas belong to the camel family, while emus are birds related to ostriches. But the two animals do have one thing in common: crankiness. When llamas get annoyed, which is frequently, they spit up their own stomach acid. And emus are largely solitary animals that don't like too much human company.

Mighty Mouse vs. Mickey Mouse: Mickey was created in the 1920s by Walt Disney, while Mighty (a Terrytoons character) wasn't born until 1942. Mickey has no superpowers, while Mighty is excellent at flying and has X-ray vision.

This post was excerpted from the mental_floss book What's the Difference? For more columns like this, click here.

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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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