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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
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
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]