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7 Different Seven Wonders of the World

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You've heard of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But the lure of list-making has inspired plenty of people in the modern day to compile their own lists of wonders. Here are seven of them.

1. The Seven Wonders of the USA

Just this month, AOL Travel announced the winners of a voting contest for the Seven Wonders of the USA "“ and the open voting process resulted in a number of unusual choices of Wonder. While an Honorable Mention went to the Statue of Liberty, the Longaberger Home Office building in Newark, OH "“ a building shaped like a shopping basket "“ made the list. Other surprising inclusions were the Coronado Performing Arts Center (Rockford, IL), the Government Bridge (Rock Island, IL), and the Biltmore (Asheville, NC), as well as the more traditional Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and Gateway Arch.

2. Seven Wonders of the Underwater World

CEDAM international, a society for scuba diving and marine conservation, announced their list of Seven Wonders of the Underwater World in 1989. They presented their list of Wonders as a list of areas that needed protection: Palau, the Belize Barrier Reef, the Northern Red Sea, deep-sea vents, the Galapagos Islands, Lake Baikal, and the Great Barrier Reef (pictured—image credit: Richard Ling).

3. The New7 Wonders

The most famous list of new Seven Wonders is the global voting contest sponsored by the New7 Wonders Foundation. From 2001 to 2007, people voted for their favorite wonders online or by text worldwide, with over 100 million votes cast. The Pyramids of Giza were given honorary membership, and the final list contained Chichen Itza, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, and the Taj Mahal.

4. The Seven Wonders of the Modern World, 20th-Century Engineering Edition

In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers put together a list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World that celebrated incredible feats of engineering from the 20th century. The list includes older like the Panama Canal and the Empire State Building, as well as more recent structures like the Chunnel. The CN Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Itaipu Dam, and Netherlands North Sea Protection Works round out the list.

5. Popular Mechanics' Seven Wonders of the Modern World

In 1912, Popular Mechanics conducted an "International Poll of Scientists" in order to create a new list of Seven Wonders of the Modern World. With a wag of the finger, the magazine noted that the original list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World included "not a single one created for the uplifting or well-being of the masses." The list seems to be a product of the scientific advancements of the early 20th century with the spirit of Progressive Era reform behind it; it includes wireless telegraphy, the telephone, the aeroplane, radium, antiseptics and antitoxins, spectrum analysis, and the x-ray.

6. The Seven Fortean Wonders of the World

Easily the most eccentric list comes from the Charles Fort Institute, a society for skeptics whose interests veer toward the unorthodox and paranormal. They sponsored an online voting contest to determine the greatest of "history's uber-mysteries." The final list contained Bigfoot/Yeti, the Shroud of Turin, the Piri Reis Map, UFOs, Oak Island, Crop Circles, and Nazca. I didn't know what several of these were myself; you can check out the shortlist of candidates here, with descriptions.

7. The New7 Wonders of Nature

One of the most exciting lists of seven wonders is being compiled now: the New7 Wonders of Nature. Run by the same Swiss folks who put together the New Seven Wonders, they're using the tried-and-tested method of a global voting system to determine the seven most wondrous natural structures in the world. The winners will be announced in November 2011, so be sure to get your votes in before then. Even if you aren't going to vote, it's a fun website to browse around "“ had you ever heard of the Jeita Grotto?
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Interestingly enough, not a single Wonder is on this list twice. Did any of these lists get it right? What would be in your top seven?

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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.