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A Variety of Valentine Gift Guides

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So you haven't figured out what to buy your sweetheart for Valentines Day! Plenty of places on the internet will tell you what to buy, but most of those places that come up in search engines are trying to sell you their products. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find collections of gift recommendations that will either help you out or give you a laugh.

Geeky Tech Gifts

If there's one thing the internet has plenty of, it's geeks, both make and female. And Valentine gifts for those geeks. Geeks Are Sexy has The Geek Guide to Valentine's Day Gifts, which features this USB Plasma Heart which is symbolic, techy, and kitschy all at the same time. PC Magazine has 10 Valentine's Day Tech Gifts Under $50. Obsessible has Valentine's tech-themed gifts for lovers. Keep the personality of your recipient in mind, with 10 Valentine's Gifts for the Female Nerd. And Wired has has more Valentine girly gift gadgets in video form.

Pets and Pet Lovers


Dogs Online magazine has recommendations for Valentine's Day Gifts For Dog Lovers. Also see Responsible Valentine gifts for dog lovers. Inventor's Spot has the 8 Best Valentine's Day Gifts For Your Cat. The Humane Society has gifts that may or may not have anything to do with pets, but when you purchase one, you'll help out homeless cats and dogs. And that may mean a lot to your valentine.

Some Odd Choices


There are gift guides for all purposes. Some are very useful, like Cool and Different Valentine gifts, where I found the Holographic Candlelit Dinner Kit pictured. Then there are the outliers, such as Top 10 Strangest Valentine's Gifts, 13 Ideas for A Redneck Valentines Day, and the Top Bacon Flavored Valentine Gifts.

Desperation Buys


Some of you are just now noticing that the holiday is coming up as you read this. For you, check out Last Minute, Last Resort Valentine Gifts. The guys at Engadget included the Photoshop Magnet Kt pictured because it's the kind of things they'd like to receive! Before running out to buy just anything because you forgot Valentines day, read this wiki on how to buy last minute Valentine gifts.

Gifts to Avoid


15 Gifts That Will Surely Piss Off Your Valentine details gifts that send the wrong message. Imagine the reaction when you give your true love a set of scales to remind her what chocolate does! Valentines Day is full of symbolism that may bite you if you don't pay attention. Disaboom breaks them down into two lists: the Top 10 Worst Valentine's Gifts for Your Boyfriend, and the Top 10 Worst Valentine's Day Gifts For Your Girlfriend. I'd have to agree with 25 Outrageous & Lame Gifts You Should NEVER Get Your Girlfriend. Inventor Spot weighs in with Nothing Says Love Like An Anti-Valentine Gift.

Green Valentines


An environmentally-minded sweetheart will go nuts with a eco-gift for Valentines day. The Daily Green guides you with Everything You Need for a Green Valentine's Day. They can even steer you to fair trade organic chocolate like the Dagoba chocolates pictured, wrapped in recycled paper. Green Student U has Non-Traditional Green Valentine's Day Gift Ideas. If you wait until the last minute, find Last Minute Green Valentine's Gifts, but only if you live in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.



While some may be able to afford Wildly Expensive Valentine's Day gifts, most folks are thinking of cutting back since the economy took a turn. You don't have to search far for Frugal Valentine's Day Gift Ideas. The 'net will steer you to cheap or even free Valentine gifts. But what does "cheap" mean? If you're looking for gifts under $30, the gift guide for you is from from StyleHive, where I found the heart scarf pictured from for only $4.95.

Do It Yourself Experiences


Valentine gifts don't have to be store-bought. Some aren't even technically gifts, but experiences to make the holiday memorable. Life 123 has Ten Valentine's Day Gifts You Can Make for Your Girlfriend. You can make your own personalized Valentine message hearts shown above with instructions from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. Or make a Delicious Valentine's Day Dinner at Home.

Honestly, although you'll find great Valentine ideas on the internet, there is no one perfect Valentine gift. The perfect gift is the one your sweetheart wants. My boyfriend gave me a cooking pan that was noticeably absent from my extensive cookware collection, with all the right features. Even he made the remark that it seems quite un-romantic, but I disagree. It is the perfect gift because it was what I wanted. Not only that, but I was touched that he listened and knew what I wanted without even asking me. That means more than if he had spent oodles of money on candy, flowers, or jewelry.

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