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5 Other Photo Sharing Sites Worth Knowing

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To follow up on yesterday's Picasa VS Flickr post, I present five other sites that offer photo sharing. I'm also going to attempt to rate each (five star max), and definitely welcome comments on my ratings. Anyone using any of these who disagrees? Tell us why.

1. Pikeo

Pikeo offers 1GB of free storage. Like most of these sites, you can add titles, descriptions and tags (who, what, where?) to each photo and locate them on a map, of course, if your camera or phone has GPS.
Printing? Yes, handled by Photobox
Video? Nope. At least not yet.
Mobile phone? Yes, via ShoZu and others

Aperture rating: 3 stars

2. Ipernity

Pen Web Awards named Ipernity The Best Photo Sharing Site last year. Their shtick: Publish whatever you like: photos, videos, audio, anywhere, any time, no limits. You can even upload Word docs. And the good news is there are many options for getting the files to their server, at record breaking speed.

Printing? you can only order prints in Europe (though they're working on getting them delivered in the US).
Storage space? You're limited to 200MB "“ any more will cost you about 24€ / per month
Mobile phone? Yes.
Video quality? Pretty right on

Aperture rating: 4 stars

3. Photoshop

No surprise that Adobe, creator of the legendary Photoshop app, would get in on the act. At, you can manage all your photos on your desktop with their downloadable interface and sync with your albums online. The Web site itself is intensely hard to navigate, and almost impossible to find any worthwhile info on, which is surprising given the Adobe name. For instance, I couldn't easily figure out whether you could upload video or not, nor could I figure out what the upload limit is. On the other side of things, Photoshop has some pretty nice editing features online, as you might expect.
Printing? Not that I could tell.
Storage limit? Who knows.
Mobile phone? I couldn't figure it out. Though the site copy says you can upload from 16 Windows mobile devices"¦

Aperture rating: 1 star

4. Photobucket

Photobucket is one of the better all around photo sharing sites out there, especially if you're willing to part with $40/year for the pro version. The regular version is filled with annoying ads and the Web site design leaves something to be desired. But using the Flock web browser, you can upload large batches of pics and vids and it moves pretty fast (almost as fast as your standard FTP, which they also support). You can also edit online with their third-party Picnik overlay, which has some pretty powerful and amazing effects, plus all the basics (cropping, red eye, etc.).
Printing? Absolutely
Storage space? Up to 10 GB with pro
High resolution images? Yes, again with pro: 2240 x 1680 pixels
Video length? 10 minutes with pro

Aperture rating: 4 stars

5. SmugMug

The cream of the crop! SmugMug is for serious photographers, people who want to make money selling their prints, or those shutterbugs who also want to upload big, HD videos. One of the coolest things about this site is the nearly one dozen different ways you can upload photos and video (everything from an interface that allows you to drag and drop folders from your desktop to special plugins). Another great thing: They allow you to edit photos on their site with the Picnik overlay, too!
Printing? Homerun! SmugMug offers the choice of two labs: EZ Prints and Bay Photo, but they t'ain't cheap folks!
Storage? Unlimited!
Video? Power users and Pro users only (but you can even upload a 500MB vid in HD if you're paying the pro rate)
Mobile? Shoot, geotag, upload all from you iPhone
Bonus: No ads or spam!
The catch: There's no free ride here. Time to get serious with $39.95/year for standard, $59.95/year for power and $149.95/year for pro.

Aperture rating: 5+ stars

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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]