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8 Alternative Periodic Tables

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You are no doubt familiar with the Periodic Table of Elements. My first post here on mental_floss two years ago was about the imaginative way people used the periodic table form for things besides elements. And they continue to do so, as shown by these eight relatively recent tables.

1. Cupcakes

The Periodic Table of Cupcakes divides the many kinds of cupcakes into five groups: basics, fruit, nature, holiday, and kids favorites. You can click on  cell at the site and bring up a recipe for that particular cupcake!

2. Awesomements


What's an awesomement? It's something that is awesome! From bacon to holograms, from ninjas to Christopher Walken, The Periodic Table of Awesoments lines them out for your enjoyment and/or disagreements. Oh, you'll find something -probably many things- in here that you like.

3. Typefaces


The Periodic Table of Typefaces charts the 100 "most popular, influential and notorious" typefaces in use. The table is headed by Helvetica and Futura, and runs all the way to Uncial and Beowulf.

4. The Printmaking Project


The Periodic Table Printmaking Project brought 97 printmakers together to illustrate the 118 elements of the original periodic table with different mediums, including woodcut, linotype, silkscreen, etc. The indivual elements and projects photos are in this Flickr pool.

5. Cartoons


Andrew Spears created the Periodic Table of Cartoons. How many can you name?

With a love of animation, I created this. Main characters from cartoons are organized into the periodic table of elements. The first letter of their name is represented by the first letter of the element. The following letter(s) will be somewhere in their name in the same order. Some of these cartoons are a little old, so don't be surprised if you can't name them right away. Knowing the element will help you solve the cartoon character's name.

6. Video Game Characters


The periodic table of cartoon characters inspired IHeartChaos to produce the Periodic Table of Video Game Characters. The symbols of the elements have something to do with the name of the characters as much as possible. If you know all of these, you spent a good chunk of your life playing video games.

7. Videos


Despite the name, The Periodic Table of Videos is not made of Blu-Ray movies. This periodic table of the elements was produced by the University of Nottingham to teach about real elements, but with a difference. Each element has a video attached about the element. For example, under Gallium (Ga), you can watch how a glob of molten Gallium will react while submerged in sulphuric acid. It beats like a heart! If the other videos are all as fascinating, you can spend all day learning chemistry at this site.

8. LEGO®


The LEGO® Periodic Table likewise contains the elements, but with a twist in that the table itself is made of Lego bricks. The colors of the bricks represent the different types of elements, and the small blue bricks attached represent the number of valence electrons in the main group.

Periodic Tableware


Earlier periodic tables include comic book characters, desserts, and funk music. And a couple of real tables you can work or eat at! Read more about them in Periodic Tableware.

More Periodic Tableware


Another post on periodic tables covers those of candy, vegetables, website, and mathematicians. And don't forget the periodic table shower curtain available in the mental_floss store!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]