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8 Strange Sea Creatures

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With new species being discovered all the time, there seems to be no end to the strange wonders of the seas.

1. Leafy Sea Dragon

Leafy sea dragons are in the same family as sea horses, but have awesome camouflage appendages that make them indistinguishable from the surrounding plants in the wild. Its only outwardly moving part is a fin that it uses to propel itself, but that fin is transparent! Like sea horses, the female transfers fertilized eggs to the male, who carries them until they hatch. Wild sea dragons are only found in the waters off Australia. See a variety of beautiful sea dragons in this gallery. Image by Flickr user Denis-Carl Robidoux.

2. Christmas Tree Worm

Spirobranchus giganteus comes in many colors and is called the Christmas Tree Worm because of the spiral cone shape of its two feeding crowns. This worm attaches to tropical coral reefs and feeds by gathering microscopic bits in their cilial appendages, or fringe. Image by Wikipedia user Nhobgood.

3. Geoduck

geoduck @ $40/lb

A geoduck is not a duck and it has nothing to do with geology. In fact, the geo isn't even pronounced like you'd think -its "gooey-duck." They are large clams with small shells that they don't quite fit into. But they don't need to in the wild, as they bury themselves in the coastal sand of the northern Pacific and stay in one place all their lives. Geoducks can live for up to 160 years, as far as we know, and they grow larger all that time. The large meaty "neck" is actually a siphon that extends to the surface -and can grow up to three feet long! This is the part of the animal that is eaten. Because of its shape, a geoduck meal is considered a sexual stimulant in Asia, where the meat brings a high price. Geoduck farms have sprung up to supply meat, since digging out wild specimens is not only difficult but legally limited in the U.S. Image by Flickr user Dave Han.

4. The Exquisite Sea Urchin

Strange Creatures

There are about 700 known species of sea urchins. Coelopleurus exquisitus is a species discovered in 2005 in New Caledonia. It was named "exquisitus" for its beautiful markings. This picture shows two sea urchin skeletons stacked; the upper urchin is Coelopleurus exquisitus. Image by Flickr user jurvetson.

5. The Googly-eyed Glass Squid

You can see how the Googly-eyed Glass Squid got its common name. It is also known as Teuthowenia pellucida. This transparent creature is found in oceans of the southern hemisphere. When threatened, it fills itself with water to appear larger and more intimidating, which despite its laughable appearance to us, might work with other sea creatures. Not only is this squid transparent, but it glows in the dark! Image by David Shale, University of Aberdeen.

6. Tripod Fish

The Tripod Fish was named for its ability to stand on three fins. Bathypterois grallator roams the great depths of the Abyssal zone. The fish body is only about 14 inches, but the three long bony fins it rests upon can be a yard long! Tripod fish have both male and female reproductive organs, and can reproduce with itself if it can't find a mate. See a video of the Tripod Fish coming to rest on its fins. Image by Nigel Merrett.

7. Terrible Claw Lobster

Dinochelus ausubeli was first found in 2007 off the Philippines. Dinochelus, a new genus designated for this creature, literally means "terrible claw." Its species name is for Jesse Ausubel, who sponsored the marine census by which it was discovered. This lobster is tiny, but its one longer claw is almost as long as its body, and both claws have spines along the edges to grasp prey. Not much is known yet about this lobster's lifestyle. Image by Tin-Yam Chan, National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung.

8. Nudibranch

Nudibranchs are sea snails with no shell. The 3,000 or so species come in different shapes and all kinds of bright colors, which should make them vulnerable to predators. However, many species are toxic. Some nudibranchs produce poisons themselves, while others save chemicals, or even stingers, from the toxic sponges that they eat! See more colorful nudibranchs in this gallery. Image by David Doubilet.

See also: 8 More Weird Sea Creatures

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]