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Tuesday Turnip

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In case you're not familiar with the Turnip, it's a whimsical Google search, wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting pages "turn-up." As always with this feature, the _floss is not responsible for accuracy. If you know one of the below statements/links to be untrue, by all means, let the world know in the comments below.

Today I typed in "largely assumed that" unearthing the following:

Turnip #1


In 1844, John Neely Bryan convinced J. P. Dumas to survey and lay out a 0.5 square miles section of blocks and streets near present downtown [Dallas]. The establishment was named Dallas, and though it is largely assumed that it was named after the then Vice President George Mifflin Dallas, there are at least six theories as to the origin of the name: Named after George Mifflin Dallas; Named after George Mifflin Dallas's brother Alexander James Dallas, a U.S. Navy commodore who was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico; Named after George and sailor Alexander's father, Alexander James Dallas, who was the United States Secretary of the Treasury around the end of the War of 1812; Named in a town-naming contest in 1842; Named after the friend of founder John Neely Bryan's son, who later stated that his father had said he had named the town "after my friend Dallas" (a person whose identity is not certain). Named after Joseph Dallas, who settled near Dallas in 1843[2]

Turnip #2

Christopher Storrs presents a fresh new appraisal of the reasons for the survival of Spain and its European and overseas empire under the last Spanish Habsburg, Carlos II (1665-1700). Hitherto it has been largely assumed that in the 'Age of Louis XIV' Spain collapsed as a military, naval and imperial power, and only retained its empire because states which had hitherto opposed Spanish hegemony came to Carlos's aid. However, this view seriously underestimates the efforts of Carlos II"¦

Turnip #3

Controversy about the origin of human beings continues to rage even today, nearly 150 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. School districts have attempted, with varying degrees of legal success, to force teachers to teach students that the Darwinian, evolutionary explanation for the origin of life is just one of many theories. Advocates of the "creationism" perspective (and to some degree, the newer "intelligent design" perspective) continue to argue that the biblical story of creation -- in which God created humans in their present form on the sixth day of creation -- is as viable and as valid as the evolutionary perspective. Scientists largely assume that the argument should be over and that the evolutionary explanation is so well established by scientific evidence that there is no longer any room for debate.

Turnip #4

Today, it’s widely accepted as a fact that information technology is deeply embedded in almost everything we do in higher education. We just have to think back to the last time our computer broke down, our network connection stopped working, or our web browser crashed to understand how important IT has become to our work and study lives. We use IT for most of our communications, depend on it for much of our instruction and research, and use it every day for essential business processes such as hiring staff, recruiting/registering/grading students, collecting fees, and myriad other essential tasks. Simply put, information technology has become a critical strategic resource for our work in higher education. In addition, we largely assume that much of our IT resources (e.g., e-mail and networking) will operate as a utility, with the same reliability as our electricity and telephones.

Turnip #5

Still, despite its lack of scientific status, space scientists largely assume that biological evolution over time leads to increased intelligence. This belief that the evolution of life is aimed toward enhancing rational intelligence is rife among astrobiologists; and intelligence provides the criterion for measuring evolutionary advance. Of course, one could imagine a different criterion. For example, one could imagine a criterion such as altruistic love. We would then rank terrestrial as well as extraterrestrial civilizations according to their lovingness. But, alas, no one I can find in this discussion appeals to anything other than intelligence. So, intelligence is what we’ll speculate on here.

Turnip #6

Solar power is, therefore, a reliable energy source. How effective it is is a matter of debate, but one should largely assume that much – if not all – of the world’s demand for energy can be satisfied by our most powerful celestial friend.

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