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The All-Time Most Popular Posts From 21 Wonderful Websites

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While poking around in Google Analytics the other day, I was a little surprised to learn this was our all-time most popular story. I thought it was this. Or maybe this. So we decided to call people at various websites and ask everyone the same question — what was your #1 all-time most-clicked-on post? Here's what they told us.

1. Boing Boing — Classic Arcade Game Deaths

Directed by Rob Beschizza, this video has been viewed over 1.2 million times. I recommend watching it, then letting the music — a MIDI version of "Mad World" — play in the background the rest of the week.

Link: Classic Arcade Game Deaths (Boing Boing Video)

2. The Week — Why Do Smart Kids Grow Up to Be Heavier Drinkers?

Francesco83 / Shutterstock.com

Two studies suggested a correlation between intelligence and a thirst for alcohol. The good people at our sister site The Week examined the connection.

Link: Why Do Smart Kids Grow Up to Be Heavier Drinkers?

3. Flavorwire — The 30 Harshest Musician-on-Musician Insults

Flavorwire followed up their popular lists of author-on-author and filmmaker-on-filmmaker insults with a look at music feuds. Like this Elton John zinger about Keith Richards: “It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go onstage and look young.”

Link: The 30 Harshest Musician-on-Musician Insults

4. Lifehacker — Turn Your $60 Router into a $600 Router

This is one of at two posts in Lifehacker's 3 Million Pageviews Club. "How to Crack a Wi-Fi Network’s WEP Password" is the other.

Link: Turn Your $60 Router into a $600 Router

5. LIFE.com — 30 Dumb Inventions

Reg Speller/

Society made some great strides in the early 20th century. These inventions weren't among them.

Link: 30 Dumb Inventions

6. Neatorama — The 10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World

Image credit: Vladi22

A little tree porn from our friends at Neatorama.

Link: The 10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World

7. The Awl — Inside David Foster Wallace's Private Self-Help Library

"There are indications — particularly in the markings of his books — of Wallace's own ideas about the sources of his depression, some of which seem as though they ought to be the privileged communications of a priest or a psychiatrist. But these things are in a public archive and are therefore going to be discussed and so I will tell you about them."

Link: Inside David Foster Wallace's Private Self-Help Library

8. Geeks Are Sexy — The Geek Alphabet

Z is for Zork, indeed. That makes me so happy.

Link: The Geek Alphabet

9. BuzzFeed — The 24 Best Chat Roulette Screenshots

The photo above is from the sequel, 30 More Great Chat Roulette Screenshots.

Link: The 24 Best Chat Roulette Screenshots [NSFW]

10. The Atlantic — Caring for Your Introvert

"Science has learned a good deal in recent years about the habits and requirements of introverts. It has even learned, by means of brain scans, that introverts process information differently from other people (I am not making this up). If you are behind the curve on this important matter, be reassured that you are not alone."

Written back in 2003, this one might not technically be most popular thing ever posted at TheAtlantic.com, but I'm told that if it's not #1, it's close.

Link: Caring for Your Introvert

11. Smithsonian Snapshot — Parachute Wedding Dress

"This wedding dress was made from a nylon parachute that saved Maj. Claude Hensinger during World War II."

Link: Parachute Wedding Dress

12. YesButNoButYes — 15 Unintentionally Hilarious Comic Book Panels

YesButNoButYes is no more, but several of their writers — Miss Cellania and myself included — spent good times writing over there. Nothing I contributed ever approached the pageview onslaught of this Rich Barrett masterpiece.

Link: 15 Unintentionally Hilarious Comic Book Panels [NSFW]

13. Go Fug Yourself — A Royal Fugging: Wedding Live-Blog

Excerpt: "1:22 a.m: Blah blah blah. Ann Curry is talking about balloons."

Link: Will & Kate's Wedding Live-Blog

14. The Daily Beast — Did the White House Pressure General Shelton to Help a Prominent Donor?

Narrowing down the top Daily Beast story was tough. Do we count all the old Newsweek content? We decided to go with the top story since the merge.

Link: Did the White House Pressure General Shelton to Help a Prominent Donor?

Bonus Newsweek Link (from 1995): The Internet? Bah! Why Cyberspace Isn't, and Will Never Be, Nirvana

15. Twaggies — That's Larsony!

As someone once said (on Twitter, of course), Twaggies is kind of like the Twitter Hall of Fame.

Link: That's Larsony!

16. The Daily Dish, Featuring Andrew Sullivan — The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin

© BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters/Corbis

Sarah Palin equals pageviews.

Link: The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin

17. PhillyMag — Jon + Kate + 8 = $$$

This lengthy 2009 profile on the Gosselins nabbed the top spot over at Philadelphia Magazine.

Link: Jon + Kate + 8 = $$$

18. Capital New York — Bloomberg to Protesters: Clear Zuccotti Park

Protests equal pageviews, too.

Link: Bloomberg to Protesters: Clear Zuccotti Park

19. MetroFocus — Observations of a Jailed Journalist

Probably the youngest site on the list, MetroFocus covers life in New York. Back in September, their editor John Farley was working on a story on citizen journalism and wound up in jail.

Link: Observations of a Jailed Journalist

20. Miss Cellania — Sadie Hawkins Day

When she's not working here (or Neatorama, or...), Miss Cellania maintains her own site. This piece on the history of Sadie Hawkins Day has been getting steady traffic for years.

Link: Sadie Hawkins Day

21. The Winslow Gardens — The Front in the Morning

This is our art director's Tumblr blog. He wouldn't let me see his stats, so I picked this post at random.

Link: The Winslow Gardens
* * * * * *
We're still waiting (hoping) to hear back from a bunch of other places. If we do, expect a sequel. If there are other sites you're curious about, let us know in the comments — and if you run or work for another web entity, feel free to give your most popular story a plug and a link below.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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