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8 Children's Book Themes Dr. Seuss Never Tackled

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Everyone reads Dr. Seuss, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak books growing up, but there are thousands more children’s authors out there. With so much competition, some authors choose to cover unique subjects in an attempt to stand out from the crowd.

1. The Illicit Drug Trade

Do your kids need to know more about the drug industry? Well then, The House That Crack Built might be just right for educating them about everything from the workers struggling in Colombian fields to drug dealers to homeless crackheads. While the book intends to show the evils of the drug trade, it also does a great job at showing that becoming a drug kingpin can get you one heck of a house.

2. Weed

Maybe you’re a 420-friendly kind of parent who doesn’t want your child to think all illegal substances are evil. Well, in that case, you’d better grab a copy of It’s Just a Plant as soon as possible. This title, written for children aged 3-5, tells the story of a young girl who walks in on her parents smoking marijuana and then is educated about the plant and why adults sometimes use it, but children never should. This might cause some confusion when the D.A.R.E. program starts up at their school.

3. In-Utero Boredom

Most children’s books are oriented towards kids that have already been born, but Ma! There’s Nothing to Do Here! tells the story of a bored little fetus awaiting the big day when it can finally come out and see the world.

4. Fertilization

There are differing opinions on when you should introduce your kids to the birds and the bees, but for those who want to teach 4-7-year-olds about the subject, Where Willy Went is a good way to start. The book stars Willy the sperm and his nemesis Butch who compete in the swimming race every day until Willy finally makes his way into the big prize, the egg inside Mrs. Browne. Eventually, the egg becomes a baby girl, but no one knows where Willy disappeared to, until baby Edna starts showing off the same traits as the little winning sperm.

While the book won’t answer all of a kid’s questions about baby-making, it certainly makes the story of fertilization fun.

5. Constipation

If given the chance, most kids would survive on a diet of ice cream and candy. While this might be a delicious way to live, we all know that it’s not healthy, and it would wreak havoc on someone’s digestive system. Fortunately, It Hurts When I Poop is there to teach children why their diet can make it easier or harder to go potty and why they shouldn’t hold in their poops too long.

6. Flatulence

Ever since Everyone Poops became a breakout success, children’s authors have become obsessed with talking about things that come out of our backsides. This specific title was actually created by the same author as a follow up to Everyone Poops, offering to explain where gas comes from and why it stinks.

7. Urinals

This book is specifically oriented to children living in Brussels, as the plot revolves around the famous bronze statue of the little peeing boy. When a toddler sees the statue, he is inspired to start standing while urinating. While his first few attempts fail, he is soon peeing on trees, snails and more, finally standing beside his father at a urinal.

8. Conjoined Twins

Actually, Seuss did include conjoined twins in his 1953 musical The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, but this book includes a short history of famous conjoined twins and talks about the medical causes of the condition. It's more about accepting other people regardless of their differences. The author goes into detail about how Siamese twins are different from most people, but also makes sure to focus on how, in many ways, they are like everyone else.
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Have any of you ever bought one of these books for your youngster? Or, do you guys have any titles to add to the list?

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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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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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