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8 Odd Periodic Tables (and then lots more)

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People love the Periodic Table of Elements, as long as they don't have to deal with the actual chemistry. The design of the table can be used to classify, or just illustrate, all sorts of groups.

1. Elephants

Who would have thought that elephants would have their own periodic table? See the full size picture here. This was designed by high school students at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and purchased by the American Chemical Society, from which you can order your own copy on posters and t-shirts. You can download a .pdf with the key for each elephant element from their product page.

2. Chuck Norris

550norris

Crazy Dog T-shirts offers an alternate look at periodic tables. This t-shirt says "Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table because he only recognizes the element of surprise."

3. Look Around You

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Here's a periodic table from the BBC series Look Around You. Only the right section is shown here. At first glance, it's pretty straightforward, with the elements helium, neon, argon, et cetera... but then you look closely and see podium, Christmas, and goo. In the other sections, you'll find goofinium, wax, business, Toronto, jazz, and a few more head scratchers among the real elements.

4. Rejected Elements

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Along the same lines as the above table, the Periodic Table of Rejected Elements contains names of things that sound like they should be elements, but aren't. Examples include antipathy, moron, grenadine, and delirium.

5. Interacting Elements

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This poster portrays the real elements on a periodic table  as cartoon characters who interact with each other. There are also chemistry jokes that may cause you to go "look it up" to understand the humor. Click on the image here to read the full-size version.

6. Game Controllers

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The Periodic Table of Controllers plots video game controllers from the oldest to the newest, which pretty much plots them from the simplest to the most advanced. Phones and computer devices were deliberately left out.

7. Mixology

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AllPosters sells the Periodic Table of Mixology which contains recipes for cocktails, seemingly in no particular order. Cool to hang in a dorm room, as if a college student would be able to afford to stock the ingredients. Image by Flickr user viralbus.

8. Social Media Elements

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Rick Liebling created this Periodic Table of Social Media Elements. While it isn't meant to be humorous, there's some insight here. The elements are people who use social media (with links) and practices that make the experience more useful. The linked post has a key to who or what all the elements are, and you can see the full-size version here.

More Tables

I also found a poster that has the Periodic Table of Vulgarity, but I'm not posting a picture because it's vulgar. I hope you understand.

The earlier post Periodic Tableware includes tables of comic book characters, desserts, and funk music. And a couple of real tables you can work or eat at!

More Periodic Tableware covers those of candy, vegetables, website, and mathematicians.

8 Alternative Periodic Tables looked at the subjects of cupcakes, typefaces, printing projects, cartoons, video game characters, videos about the real elements, LEGO® bricks, and something called awesoments which will become clear when you take a look.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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