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10 March Madness Tournaments (other than Basketball) for 2013

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March Madness is never limited to basketball. It's a good thing, too, as this Kentucky fan does not want to talk about basketball. There are plenty of tournaments you can participate in, or just watch, even if you don't know a thing about basketball. March Madness bracketology has invaded the field of movies, TV, science fiction, cooking, and other fields dear to the hearts of internet users. Let's look at a few of them.

1. io9's March TV Madness

Vote for the best science fiction TV show ever in the io9 March TV Madness tournament! Sixty-four shows, both old and new, are competing for the title. So far, Star Trek has trounced ALF (no surprise), and The Walking Dead beat Being Human. That's just the first of the elimination round matchups. Voting in the second half of the first round will be Thursday. Check out the full size bracket; what is shown here is a small portion.  

2. This is Madness

Lucasfilm is presenting their own tournament to determine who is the favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe. The bracket is divided into the Light Side and the Dark Side, guaranteeing matchups between the two in the final four and possibly the championship game. No seeds or odds are apparent, but the way the brackets are laid out, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Luke, and Han are all in same region, so only one of those can make it to the final four, but Darth Vader vs the Emperor will be a possibility. Voting in the first round began Monday, and the final matchup is on April 9th. Vote now for Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Qui-Gon Jinn and Asajj Ventress vs. Darth Maul in today's matchups.

3. Best College Eats

This one is liable to bring back some good memories, wherever you attended college. Or plan to. The Cooking Channel has a bracket pitting the 32 best foods available near college campuses. Read about each offering here. Even if you don't participate in the tournament, you may find a great place to eat!

4. Teen Movie Madness

Forever Young Adult is staging a tournament to determine the best teen movie ever. You can see the entire bracket in the round two results post. Yesterday was the The Molly Ringwald Division Semi-Finals, and today we have the The Freddie Prinze, Jr. Division Semi-Finals

5. Animal March Madness

Buzzfeed Animals wants you to help select the most promising animal species, barring dogs and cats and a few other animals that have already seen more than their share of internet fame. Sixteen species are represented in the bracket, with four already eliminated. The aim is to select which animal will be the "next big thing" on the internet. Keep up with the current open categories here

6. Hot Dog Madness

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is asking you to decide which hot dog is best, pitting different sausages against each other on one side of the bracket and different styles of dressing a dog on the other side. See the bracket here. Vote in the matchups at Facebook and win prizes just for voting!

7. The 2013 Worst Company In America Tournament

Consumerist holds an annual tournament to decide which company is the best at instilling hatred in their customers in the Worst Company In America Tournament. Companies appearing in the bracket for the first time this year include Carnival Cruises, J.C. Penney, and Anheuser-Busch. Today's matchup is between Cablevision and Time Warner Cable, which will most likely be won by which company has more customers. Follow the progress of the tournament here

8. Middle-Earth March Madness presents the 2013 edition of Middle Earth Madness, with a whole new infusion of characters from The Hobbit movie, in addition to old favorites. The bracket's four divisions are: The Shire, Erebor, Angmar and Mordor. Voting is now open in the first round. Follow the progress of the tournament here

9. The Ultimate Sitcom Smackdown

Vulture once again hosted a tournament about TV, this time to decide the best sitcom of the past 30 years. Unfortunately, you can't vote in this tournament, as the champion was announced yesterday. However, each round comes with an extensive breakdown of each show's strengths and weaknesses, which is fascinating for sitcom fans.

10. Pope Madness 2013

People will make a tournament bracket out of anything, and the process of selecting the next Pope was just too tempting to resist. The Pope Madness bracket is divided into four regions, including the tri-state regional, which contains four men not actually considered "papabili" (two are deceased). This is another example of March Madness tournaments not coinciding with the NCAA tournament because the basketball tournament is so late getting started -and the papal conclave was quicker than expected. The rounds have wonderful names, the best being the Sweet Sistine. Each candidate came with Vegas odds, but you might notice that the eventual winner, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is not in the bracket at all.

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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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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]