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12 Places That Rarely See Snow

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Snowbirds, take note: If a winter season completely devoid of snow sounds like your idea of heaven, these 12 places are calling your name. Though they do get the occasional dusting, once every few decades is definitely more novelty than nuisance.

1. ROME, ITALY

Rome gets a dusting every few years, but heavy snow that sticks happens only once every 25 years or so. When it happened in 2012, the snow did some damage to the Colosseum, forcing officials to close the historic monument for inspection.

2. MIAMI, FLORIDA

In 1977, a cold wave swept through Florida, causing snow flurries for the first and only time in the recorded history of many towns, including Miami. The only time it had happened before was in 1899, and that was in Fort Pierce—130 miles north. While Miamians were charmed by the snow, workers in the state's citrus and vegetable industry weren't so thrilled; the snow and cold weather wiped them out, costing at least 150,000 people their jobs.

3. THE SAHARA DESERT

The Sahara isn't always dry—the desert experiences snow storms on extremely rare occasions, including December 19, 2016, when snow stuck to the sand dunes in Ain Sefra, Algeria, for about a day.

The white stuff ended a 37-year snowless spell for the region; the last time the Sahara saw snow that stuck was February 1979, and it only lasted for 30 minutes.

4. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Though the only recorded snowfall in Sydney's history happened close to 200 years ago, there was a close call in 2007. However, the tiny white precipitation turned out to be "soft hail," not snow. In fact, some historians think the 1836 event may also have been hail. "Two hundred years ago they may not have been that well trained and it was probably small hail," said Peter Zmijewsk, senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology.

5. BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Although it's not uncommon to see snow in Northern Iraq, snow took a 100-year hiatus from Baghdad before deciding to show itself again in 2008. Most of it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but citizens were still pleasantly surprised.

6. LISBON, PORTUGAL

FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images

Prior to January 2006, it had been more than a half-century since Lisbon had last seen snowfall. Many highways and roads were closed in central and south Portugal during the storm of 2006; one town even lost power.

7. MALIBU, CALIFORNIA

Snow in the mountains of California is expected, but snow in Malibu is pretty rare. The last measurable amount was during a cold snap at the end of 2008 that also hit Las Vegas.

8. LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

It used to be a rarity to see snow falling on the Palms or the Bellagio, but it seems to be happening about once a year now. The snow is brief and often melts as fast as it falls, but in December 2008, enough stuck around to make it a pretty newsworthy event.

9. BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

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If you could happily go 89 years without seeing snow, Buenos Aires might be the place for you; snow was a stranger to the city from June 22, 1918, through July 9, 2007.

10. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

The mountains in San Diego county see snow every year, but San Diego proper hasn't had measurable snowfall since 1967. Flakes have floated through the air on occasion, even on a memorable Christmas Eve in 1987—but nothing like the amount they got in '67. It was so much, one resident reported, that some kids managed to go sledding.

11. HAWAII

It snows pretty much annually in Hawaii—even enough to go skiing. To see the rare event, however, you'll have to go up: The white stuff only sticks around at the top of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Haleakala. In fact, Mauna Kea was recently blanketed in snow.

12. NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

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Just 17 "snow events" have been recorded in Nola from 1853 to 2008. Nothing compares to the snow of 1895; residents were flummoxed to find themselves snowed in with more than eight inches of snow on the ground.

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technology
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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Health
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]

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