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Symphony of Science: 'Our Place in the Cosmos' (ft. Sagan, Dawkins, Kaku, Jastrow)

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." -Carl Sagan. Here's the third movement of the growing Symphony of Science, a series of songs that use scientists' spoken voices auto-tuned to make them sing. In this latest installment, the focus is again on the vastness of the cosmos and our place in it. The video also includes a few clips from my favorite film of all time, Koyaanisqatsi (more on that later this week).

If you're a fan of the original song ("A Glorious Dawn" featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking), you can now buy it on vinyl from Jack White's record company. It's only six bucks (shipping included!), and the B side features replicas of the Voyager Golden Record's engravings. It's made of vinyl, not gold, though.

You can download free MP3s and learn more at SymphonyOfScience.com. See also: We Are All Connected.

Complete lyrics after the jump.

Lyrics

[Narrator]
With every century
Our eyes on the universe have been opened anew
We are witness
To the very brink of time and space

[Robert Jastrow]
We must ask ourselves
We who are so proud of our accomplishments
What is our place in the cosmic perspective of life?

[Carl Sagan]
The exploration of the cosmos
Is a voyage of self discovery
As long as there have been humans
We have searched for our place in the cosmos

[Richard Dawkins]
Are there things about the universe
That will be forever beyond our grasp?
Are there things about the universe that are
Ungraspable?

[Sagan]
One of the great revelations of space exploration
Is the image of the earth, finite and lonely
Bearing the entire human species
Through the oceans of space and time

[Dawkins]
Matter flows from place to place
And momentarily comes together to be you
Some people find that thought disturbing
I find the reality thrilling

[Sagan]
As the ancient mythmakers knew
We're children equally of the earth and the sky
In our tenure on this planet, we've accumulated
Dangerous evolutionary baggage

We've also acquired compassion for others,
Love for our children,
And a great soaring passionate intelligence
The clear tools for our continued survival

[Michio Kaku]
We could be in the middle
Of an inter-galactic conversation
And we wouldn't even know

[Sagan]
We've begun at last
To wonder about our origins
Star stuff contemplating the stars
Tracing that long path

Our obligation to survive and flourish
Is owed not just to ourselves
But also to that cosmos
Ancient and vast, from which we spring

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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