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9 Periodic Table Parodies

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It's been almost two years since I've done a roundup of periodic tables (and six years since I posted the first one). Oh, you know the periodic table of elements; you may have even studied it. But these are different. Creative minds use the basic template to classify all sorts of things that aren't elements, and the ones that do contain real elements have a twist.  

1. Twitter

There are 114 named elements in the periodic table now, and every one of them is being used by someone on Twitter. Every one. Stuart Cantrill of the blog Chemical Connections created an interactive periodic table in which each element links to the Twitter account of the person using the element name. Some are chemists or scientists in various disciplines, but others have nothing to do with the Twitter handle they selected. Maybe Cabtrill didn't think you'd believe him when he said they were all taken -or maybe he just wants to share the new Twitter accounts he found.  

2. M&Ms

A new store dedicated to selling M&Ms candies opened in London in 2011. Part of the festivities was the display of the Periodic Table of M&Ms, seen here. Other treats for the grand opening party were life-sized M&Ms wearing various uniforms, and even M&Ms recreating the iconic cover of Abbey Road


But that wasn't the only candy-coated chocolate periodic table. Randi at the Tumblr blog Holy Crap arranged her M&Ms into a periodic table by color and tagged it OCD.

3. Sports Cars

Car and Driver magazine produced the Periodic Table of Sports Cars to classify automobiles under categories such as "Ferry-ous Porsches," "Poseur-oids," and "Reliable Transportation Metals." You can download the full-size version to print out.

4. Canadian Periodic Table

The parody wiki Uncyclopedia has a parody table of Canadian elements. The main divisions are derived from edibility of the known elements. The page devoted to it has the history of how these elements were discovered, which mostly involves war and snowball fights.

5. The Empire Strikes Back Elements

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film The Empire Strikes Back, Chris Kalb designed this periodic table for Sci-Fi Wire. The elements of the movie are divided into places, characters, technology, and other divisions, although there is a bit of overlap. Of course, the table is headed by Luke Skywalker on one side and Darth Vader on the other.  

6. Presidents

Will Nicholes created the Periodic Table of Presidents, which has only 44 elements but a lot of information. The colors are indicative of the president's political party. Those who died in office are in black, and of the eight that did, seven were elected in years ending in zero. There are symbols for other notable facts, so you should see the full-size version at the website.

7. Heavy Metals

The Periodic Table of Heavy Metals may sound like chemistry, but this is metal music. Bands are categorized by sub genre and stacked by longevity. Only a small part is shown here. The print is for sale.

8. Cupcakes

Ever eat an arsenic cupcake? Redditor rach11 made these cupcakes for a chemical engineering department reception at school. Each one is labeled with the symbol of an element from the table. It won't be long until they Argon! See more pictures.

Cupcakes are a popular, if labor intensive, way to illustrate the periodic table of elements. In December of 2011, students presented Professor Martyn Poliakoff of the University of Nottingham with a periodic table of cupcakes for his birthday. See pictures of the event at Flickr.

9. Minecraft

DeviantART member egeres created a periodic table featuring the materials that can be used in the game Minecraft. You have to be familiar with the game to understand how wonderful this is.

Periodic Tableware
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8 Creative Periodic Tables

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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]