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The 2011 Zombie Invasion Schedule

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Zombies make their appearances here and there all through the year, but you will see more of them this month. Between World Zombie Day on October 8 and Halloween on October 31, the nation and even the world will be crawling with zombies. If you are a zombie (or want to be one), find out where you should be and when with this handy guide to zombie walks, parades, dances, pub crawls, festivals, and gatherings.

Pittsburgh Zombiefest 2007 photograph by Flickr user Jim Reynolds.

A few zombie gatherings were observed last weekend, but the real season of the undead begins with World Zombie Day on October 8. Pittsburgh held a world record zombie gathering in 2006 that was also a food collection effort. Out of that experience, Mark Menold, one of the hosts of The It's Alive Show founded World Zombie Day in 2008 in order to coordinate zombie efforts to stock local food banks in cities all over the world. In Pittsburgh this year, the annual Zombiefest on October 8 from noon until 9PM will attempt to set a new world record for the number of zombies gathered, and once again collect non-perishable food items for The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Rise From the Grave!

Minneapolis Pub Crawl 2008 photograph by Flickr user Andrew Wong.

The Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota Zombie Pub Crawl on October 8 is called "A Terror of Two Cities." Participating venues have an extensive lineup of live music scheduled.

Brains...Brains...

Jacksonville Zombie Walk 2009 photograph by Flickr user ernestkoe.

Zombies will also be invading the cities of Jacksonville, Florida, Adelaide, Australia, and Shreveport, Louisiana on Saturday, October 8.

Zombie Walk Detroit

Detroit Zombie Walk 2007 photograph by Flickr user Wigwam Jones.

Zombie Walk Detroit takes place on Sunday, October 9 to benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank. Children and dogs are welcome as well as adults, but you have to dress like a zombie, unless you already look like a zombie!

The Baltimore Art & Music Project is hosting Zombies in the Park on Saturday, October 15. In addition to live music, food, and other normal festival events, there will be a special appearance by a zombie from Dawn of the Dead and zombie makeup tutorials. Everyone is invited to show up in your best zombie getup.

Charlotte Zombie Walk

Charlotte Zombie Walk 2007 photograph by Flickr user Willamor Media.

Dallas, Texas, Omaha, Nebraska, and Charlotte, North Carolina are all having zombie walks on Saturday, October 15.

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Zombiewalk Hollywood 2009 photograph by Flickr user John Strathdee.

The 3rd Annual Subway Zombie Walk is happening in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 16. Instead of walking, these zombies will take the North Hollywood Red Line Station to Hollywood & Highland. Now that's using your braaaains!

Office Zombies

2010 Silver Spring Zombie Walk photograph by Flickr user ARKNTINA.

Silver Spring, Maryland will stage their annual zombie walk Saturday, October 22 to shuffle through the downtown area and end at the AFI Silver Theatre. Then the undead participants can enjoy the 2009 Norwegian zombie film Dead Snow followed by Shaun of the Dead.

09-ZombieWalk-3786

Asbury Park Zombie Walk 2009 photograph by Flickr user Kadath.

Last year, 4,093 zombies were counted in Asbury Park, New Jersey and recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. This year, there will be no record attempt, but the annual zombie walk has burgeoned into a three-day festival. The New Jersey Zombie Walk will take place October 22 as part of the Undead Festival at the Asbury Park Convention Center October 21-23. Many zombies from TV, film, and comic books are scheduled to appear.

The Denver, Colorado Zombie Crawl on October 22 includes the Organ Trail, a race/scavenger hunt that is described as "part Amazing Race, part Fear Factor, and part Haunted House." The zombie crawl afterward is free, but you should take something for the Food Bank of the Rockies.

ZOMBIE_WALK_2008_031

Toronto Zombie Walk 2008 photograph by Flickr user Sam Javanrouh.

Zombie walks will also take place on October 22 in Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, Ontario, Houston, Texas, and St. Louis. Missouri. There will be a pub craw in Sarasota, Florida the same day.

Brisbane Zombie Walk 2009

Brisbane Zombie Walk 2009 photograph by Flickr user yinyang.

The 6th annual Brisbane Zombie Walk will take place on Sunday, October 23. Since there aren't many zombie invasions scheduled on Sunday, we can all hop over to Brisbane! The event this year will raise funds for the Brain Foundation of Australia, because you know how zombies love brains.

Cincinnati Zombie Walk 2010.

Cincinnati, Ohio, is another city that hopes to benefit from welcoming a hoard of zombies on a day other than Saturday. The Cincinnati Zombie Walk will start at 7:30 on Friday, October 28. There's a party afterward, too.

Some of the zombie events are part of the 2011 Halloween Zombie Apocalypse, an effort to coordinate events in many cities on the weekend of October 29- 31 in order to raise funds for the American Cancer Society, the Epilepsy Foundation, and Feed the Children. You can connect with other participating zombies through their Facebook page.

Thrill the World - Hawaii - 2009

Thrill the World Hawaii 2009 photograph by Flickr user marcorbito.

Thrill the World is an annual attempt to coordinate community productions of the iconic Michael Jackson dance video so that they are performed simultaneously. The events also raise funds for local charities. This year these dances will occur on October 29 at 2AM and 2PM GMT. New York City, London, and Los Angeles are all expected to have a huge turnout. Other US cities participating include (but are not limited to) Oakland and Chico, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Johnson City, Tennessee; Grant's Pass, Oregon; Redmond, Washington; and Bloomington, Indiana.

Zombies eat clown

Reno Zombie Crawl 2008 photograph by Flickr user Nico Aguilera.

The annual zombie crawl in Reno, Nevada starts with a community Thriller dance at 7PM on Saturday, October 29 followed by a pub crawl that will last into Sunday. Long Beach, California will combine a zombie walk, concert, and Thriller dance into a festival on October 29. The festival is a benefit for the Long Beach Cinematheque, with some funds also going to Friends of Long Beach Animals and Special Olympics Southern California.

March-OH-03

Sydney Zombie Lurch 2006 photograph by Flickr user Rachel Young.

Saturday, October 29 is also the day zombies will invade Richmond, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona, and Sydney, Australia.

Thriller

Lexington Thriller 2007 photograph by Flickr user .matter.

It's become a Kentucky tradition, and a performance that strives for quality over the number of participants. Lexington, Kentucky will stage the 10th anniversary Thriller Parade on Sunday, October 30. The dance is open to anyone, but in order to perform, you must attend at least one regular rehearsal and at least one staging rehearsal.

This is not an inclusive list. You should look now to see if there's a zombie invasion coming to your town, before you miss the chance to be a part of it! But if you do miss yours, all these other cities will welcome you to shuffle along with their undead.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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