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12 Science Valentines

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There are Valentine cards, ecards, and gifts for every taste imaginable! If you don't find a card or image that perfectly expresses your sentiments, you can easily make your own. And if you lack the imagination, skills, or time to create one, someone else probably has just what you're looking for. The scientific community is no exception -and they take advantage of every opportunity to make a pun when they can. Here are some valentines from different scientific disciplines. Keep in mind that for almost every image here, you can find follow the links and find more clever science valentines.

1. General Science

Aaron Lurch put his imagination to work to create a valentine for his wife Mindy. The result was a display worthy of any 7th grade science fair project, complete with a graph of his results. At his site, you can click to enlarge this picture enough to read it -it's quite clever!

2. Evolution

David Friedman at Ironic Sans made several scientist valentines. This one features, of course, Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Others depict Sir Isaac Newton, Carl Sagan, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein.

3. Behavioral Psychology

Alex at Neatorama set out to represent the scientists who had not been enshrined in valentines in Friedman's collection. Besides Pavlov, you'll find Stephen Hawking, Amedeo Modigliani, Archimedes, and Nikola Tesla expressing their romantic sides.

4. Chemistry

Not to be outdone, Jack of Science made up a collection of valentines that used scientific puns, like this one that illustrates capsaicin. At least I'm pretty sure that's what this is.

5. Computer Science

Garrison Dean created science fiction valentines for io9 last year, including this creepy sentiment from HAL9000.

6. Genetics

Maybe you can help me out on this one. There's no explanation of what this image really represents (besides love), and the original has been deleted. I think it may have something to do with DNA sequencing.

Update: Natalie helped me out (thanks!):

It's the result of electrophoresis, where molecular biologists inject DNA samples into a gel and then use electric current to run them across the gel, since DNA is negatively charged. The banding patterns created, like in the image above, are then compared for similarities. For any forensics junkies, this is how they actually do DNA fingerprinting.

7. Medicine

Sheila at Cheeky Magpie made a variety of valentines in the shape of an anatomically correct heart. She also posted the basic pattern that you can print out and use yourself. Hey, it's a heart! It could be worse!

8. Math

Gotta love fractals, which are cool in any form. Randall Munroe of xkcd stuck infinite hearts into this Sierpinski valentine. In 2010, he posted a bittersweet valentine invoking the scientific method.

9. Astronomy

Dr. Phil Plait, who regularly addresses the issue of pareidolia in outer space and elsewhere, created a valentine with the "face on Mars" that we've all seen.

10. Physics

Stephanie Burrows makes real cardstock valentines for sale at Etsy. A set of 16 feature 8 different scientists saying something you'd expect them to for the holiday.

11. Marine Biology

Science, love, and the horrors of the deep made cute, as happens a lot on the internet. That's P.Z. Myers' cephalopod valentine, because even cuttlefish like to cuddle!

12. Microbiology

Microbes proliferate in Petri dishes and agar plates, sometimes in colonies that form interesting patterns. However, this one was modified especially for Valentines Day to express the proper sentiment.

Scientists and science geeks have options besides valentine cards and images. You can pass along some science poetry from this roundup at The Scientific Activist. Or share some valentine experiments, courtesy of Steve Spangler. Spangler has more suggestions this year for injecting a little science into your Valentines Day activities, no matter whether you are a scientist or not.

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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
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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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