CLOSE
Original image

7 Brilliant and/or Baffling Flowcharts

Original image

In the 2007 post Fun with Flowcharts, we took a look at flowcharts and how people use them to explain widely varying processes from playing the pan flute to a dog's inner thoughts. That was followed by 7 Geeky Flowcharts in 2008. Since then, I've found even more strange flowcharts to give us a giggle or two.

The Flowchart of Should You Make A Flowchart

Miles Grover at Thinkin' Lincoln created this flowchart on the decision to make a flowchart. Now stay with me here. Since Grover decided to make this chart, the answer is yes, make a flow chart. However, since he's already made the decision about making this one, your process may vary. Follow the link to see the entire chart.

Understanding Flowcharts

445xkcd.png

Of course, it's difficult to make a flowchart if you don't understand flowcharts. So Randall Munroe at XKCD explains flowcharts for you, with a handy flowchart. Are you following this? As the previous flowchart explained, "people love that meta-irony stuff." Continue reading for flowcharts that are actually about stuff.

Create Your Own Star Trek Story

445STTOS.png

The best flowcharts are the ones that help you actually do something you enjoy. Stephanie Fox at io9 took information that is obvious to fans of the original Star Trek TV series and put it into flowchart form to help anyone make their own Star Trek: TOS adventure. The scriptwriters for the 1966-68 series were obviously constrained by budget, and often relied on what worked in previous episodes to construct stories. In this small section of the chart, the available set determines what kind of alien world the Enterprise will encounter.

Solving Valentine's Day

445geek-dating-flowchart.jpg

Funny, but still a bit sad when you reach the end of this flowchart on how geeks deal with Valentines Day.

The Financial Crisis

445unemployment.png

The main function of a flowchart (or any chart, for that matter) is to make information easy to absorb. Understanding the current financial meltdown requires such vast amounts of information even economists have trouble. But if you break it down into smaller pieces, such as unemployment statistics, and put it into flowchart form, even I can understand it. Even if it doesn't make sense.

Selecting a Medical Specialty

445_medicalspecialty.jpg

Few decisions in life wouldn't be easier with a flowchart. Here's one for medical students on how to select your specialty. It's based on your goals and personality.

Beer

445goldstar.png

McCann Ericson advertising in Tel Aviv designed a series of flowcharts to advertise Gold Star Beer. This one contrasts how men and women deal with the effects of beer drinking. Believe me, the woman's process goes a lot further! See more of the series here and here.

See also: Fun with Flowcharts

7 Geeky Flowcharts

Fun with Pie Charts

Fun with Venn and Euler Diagrams

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
Animals
arrow
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES